Groyven was in awe of how the whole mood and energy of the crew had changed now they were on the onset of battle. They made their way to the private cabins, members of the crew respectfully giving way to Sialin, falling silent and pressing a hand to their chests in a strange salute.
As she passed into the passage to their cabins, a dwarven woman called out, her voice solitary and penetrating, ‘Hail! Sialin of the Blaze and the Healing Flame prepares for battle! May our enemies fall swiftly and mercifully!’
The crew cheered in unison, ‘Hail Sialin!’
Groyven’s eyes were wide as their words thundered throughout the deck. He followed Sialin into her room, latching the door behind them.
‘Sialin?’ he asked curiously as she slid the drawer under her bed open.
She glanced at him with a smile, ‘The crew rallies behind its chosen champions. For me, every single person out there screaming my name is my champion. Each and every person aboard has a role to play. I am honoured for them to place their trust and rally behind me. The Lychen’s Fiddle and its crew is a war ship of calibre.’ she gestured to Groyven, removing and handing him different bagged items from the drawer.
She took the final long and narrow case and laid it on the bed. Groyven helped her unpack her gear. Opening a bag, he looked within, a strong blue glow seemed to be emanating from hundreds of small sealed ampules. He placed it on the bed and watched Sialin prepare. She shook her head as she prepared her wide black leather belt.
‘It is your sister’s turn now, listen.’ she said, buckling it and settling it on her hips.
Groyven waited, then suddenly the same dwarven woman’s voice rose, ‘Hail! Selera the Gilded Fist, the Unyielding Mistress prepares for battle! May our enemies fall swiftly and mercifully!’
‘Hail Selera!’ came the crew’s roar.
Groyven shook his head, looking back to Sialin, ‘That is a new one. Unyielding Mistress? I understand, but I am not sure if she will appreciate that.’ she said.
Suddenly they heard a banging on a door in the passage, Selera’s voice came to them, ‘Illias? Open the door.’ there was a short silence followed by a door opening.
They heard Selera’s gasp, ‘By the gods! She wasn’t joking when she said she rearranged your face. Illias, if you are ready to regain a little of your dignity, take this, followed by this, courtesy of the Captain. The last thing we need is you drowning if the ship goes down.’
‘On a final note, if you so much as speak out of line around the women aboard or present a bad influence to my young brother again without a good reason, we will cut you loose. Either at dock, or at sea. Understood?’
Again a short silence, ‘I will keep you to your word. Once it has taken effect, make yourself useful.’
Groyven heard Selera enter the room he and his sister slept in.
‘Little Prince, here, take these.’ said Sialin as she handed him a small, oiled, leather pouch.
He looked at her, questioningly.
‘A gift, Little Prince. If you are hurt or tiring, unstop and drink it. It will help or heal minor hurts. Experiment with it sparingly.’ she said.
He carefully opened the pouch to find a number of the glowing ampules from the bag as she smiled. Sialin opened the long case on the bed to reveal an intricately carved scabbard housing a short sword with a cross guard and ringed hilt. She partially slid the blade free before fastening it to her belt. Quickly checking herself over, testing the buckles and straps of her crossed belts, pouches and scabbard she moved with practised ease.
Groyven watched her, ‘Do you not wear armour?’
‘No, Little Prince. Not on board.’
He nodded as he watched her finishing up.
She sat on the bed, looking into his eyes and spoke softly, ‘Little Prince, you are going to hear, see and smell terrible things today, if it comes to a fight and also in the aftermath. I have every confidence in the Fiddle and her crew. It is normal to be afraid, just don’t let that fear control or overtake you. You screw it down deep inside and keep your head clear.’
She hugged him warmly, ‘Protect your sister, Little Prince. Keep a level head. You will be out of harm’s way.’
They both looked up, hearing a sharp knock at the door. Selera entered, she had changed and was now dressed in a similar fashion to Sialin, a fitted armless top and flowing leggings that allowed for free movement. Her belts holding a series of pouches and matching long-bladed daggers. Her jet-black hair plaited and up in a bun and two rings that Groyven had never seen before adorned her fingers.
Selera nodded to Sialin and faced Groyven, ‘Little brother, we will go back to the helm shortly. When we tell you, you and Tiff are to go to the Captain’s cabin. It is the most protected place on board this ship. No matter what you hear, and it will get very loud and frightening, you will be safe in that room.’
Groyven looked at her, her face serious and tense, ‘Lera, I have faith in you.’
She smiled slightly, ‘I will let nothing happen to either of you. But there are a few things I want to say, just to you, without your sister present.’
She leaned down, her hands on his shoulders, ‘I am proud of you, I am happy that you chose to follow what you want, to become Sialin’s apprentice.’
Selera carefully dropped to one knee, looking into his eyes, ‘Ven, you have it?’
Groyven nodded, taking out the small green pouch that had been presented to him by Sialin earlier. Selera took it from his hand and opened it, her hands shaking slightly. She slid a small rectangular amulet out and into her hand. It was black with two glowing crystals shaped like orbs set into holes near its middle. Both were of deep purple amethyst, one glowing with blue highlights the other with red. The writing of a lost ancient language from the old world etched around the openings. She let it slide on the chain, reaching up and slipping it over Groyven’s head and letting it settle around his neck.
‘Ven, I recognise you as the future head of this family.’ she said, her voice strong.
She placed her hand over it, ‘You know what to do, Mother prepared you. If the absolute worst were to happen in the coming fight.’ she looked at him with a fierce intensity, ‘If Sialin’s mark grows cold, or if suddenly the sky grows ominously dark, as if a storm were closing in.’ she glanced to Sialin before back to her brother, ‘You use your power and blow the windows out of the Captain’s cabin, blow the whole back of the ship off if you must. You summon him and you escape with Tiffaniel. You tell him to take you home. Do you hear me? You escape.’
‘But?’ said Groyven, his eyes wide, taken aback by Selera’s eyes.
Sialin looked at him, her eyes starting to flame, ‘Little Prince, if your sister falls. I will come for you and Tiffaniel. I think you understand why we want to discuss this with you alone.’
Groyven nodded, his face serious, ‘I understand. I will do as you ask.’
Selera nodded and hugged him close, whispering to him, ‘I am only telling you this in case. I am not worried about a possible fight, just the unpredictable nature of it.’
He looked at her, ‘You are telling me so I know what to do if the worst happens.’ Groyven smiled grimly, ‘I understand, Lera, Sialin. Thank you.’
‘By the gods, Selera! Yesterday he was a boy and today, a young man. Look at him.’ Sialin said, sudden heat growing in her chest as her breath caught.
She swallowed, looking at Groyven with a strange expression. There was sudden silence through the ship, both Selera and Sialin looked to each other, Selera opened the door, the words of the forward lookout reaching them.
‘Sails Ho! Confirming sails, two points on the starboard bow. Three masts, high in the water.’
* * * * *
As Selera, Sialin and Groyven returned to the helm and the Captain’s side, the Lychen’s Fiddle was quiet. Preparations had been made by the crew and she was ready for the fight. Occasionally the eyes would report anything new in their observations of the three ships that were closing with them. Apart from minor discussion amongst the crew, the only sounds were the wind, the rigging and the flap of sail.
Tiffaniel spoke, ‘It is so quiet.’
The Captain nodded, ‘Now we watch and wait, we have a strong heading and full sails. That frigate is moving to head us off, the sloop abeam is closing and the sloop to the aft is catching. Everything in its current state,’ he looked quickly between their assailants, ‘The two sloops will start harassing us first, trying to direct our path so that it is favourable for the frigate to attack or intercept.’
He patted Tiffaniel’s shoulder, ‘There is nothing to worry about, Tiff.’
‘But Illias, he won’t be fighting?’ she asked.
The Captain laughed, ‘Even without Illias in play, with one seasoned spell-runner on board against the standard fare in these waters.’ he looked at her, ‘There is no contest.’ he said confidently.
He met Selera’s eyes as he turned, shrugging slightly as he motioned with his hand.
‘Are you just going to let them do what they plan? Why aren’t we trying to escape?’ asked Tiffaniel earnestly.
The Captain chuckled deeply, ‘We can’t outrun them loaded with cargo, even with magical assistance. The masts and sails can only take so much punishment.’
Darius watched the sloop to their aft with his spyglass, ‘I think it is time, they are getting ready and have been signalling the one abeam. Captain, Selera, Sialin, I am thinking they are readying to make their move; they are assembling archers on deck. It is best to get the young ones safe and to get into position.’
Selera nodded, placing a hand on Groyven’s shoulder. He looked up and met her eyes, giving her a small smile and nod in understanding.
She looked to Tiffaniel as she spoke, ‘Tiff, Ven, it is time, come.’
She led them down from the helm and then to the Captain’s quarters, Sialin bringing up behind.
As she opened the door she spoke to the both of them, ‘This cabin is the safest on board. It’s walls are armoured and enchanted to withstand direct hits. In here you will be safe from harm. Find a spot and secure yourself.’
She quickly hugged Tiffaniel, ‘Tiff, everything will be fine. No matter what you hear or see. I know it will be frightening. Trust in your brother. He knows what to do.’
Tiffaniel looked over to Groyven as he stood with Sialin, her face close to his as she spoke quietly to him.
‘Little Prince, remember what we talked of. Do not worry for Selera or myself. This is not our first fight, nor will it be our last. Once the battle starts it will not last long. You will both be fine in here.’
She touched her forehead to his. Placing a finger behind his ear, she touched her mark, ‘Remember, this is our bond. I trust you.’
Groyven smiled, ‘Sialin, good luck.’ he said, hugging her quickly.
She nodded to him, pressing her hand to her chest as she stepped back, ‘I don’t need luck, I have you. Take care of your sister.’
He looked to Tiffaniel as both Selera and Sialin left the room.
A single voice called out, ‘Hail! The spell-runners of the wolf are taking their place, battle is nigh! Champions of the wolf, we salute you!’
They heard Selera’s voice, strong and carrying, ‘Crew of the wolf, I salute you! Carry us to victory!’
Then Sialin’s, ‘Crew of the wolf, I salute you! Strike fear into the hearts of our enemy!’
‘Hail! Hail! To Victory!’ came the almost deafening roar of the crew before a sudden silence.
The calm before the storm.