Read Dragon Choir Online

Authors: Benjamin Descovich

Tags: #romance, #fantasy, #magic, #gods, #ships, #war, #dragon, #pirates, #monsters, #swords and scorcery

Dragon Choir (10 page)

BOOK: Dragon Choir
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The marines
tossed the boy to the side and hauled Delik to his feet, forcing
him through the hatch. They were in no mind to delay, though one
had enough time to swing a brutal kick at the boy, knocking him in
the teeth before heading below. The boy got to his knees, flashing
a wink and a ragged smile.

Elrin stepped
down through the hatch, rethinking trial by sea as a preferred
option.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

Below
Deck

 

It took a
moment for Elrin’s eyes to adjust to the sea of activity inside the
ship. Officers shouted orders to uniformed sailors and they, in
turn, barked at the crew. The crew rushed about accomplishing their
jobs as fast as possible. Those who disappointed the overseers were
struck with a thick knotted rope then shoved back to task.

Their escort
handed Delik and Elrin over to a junior officer who had his men
bind their hands behind their backs. The rope was coarse and chafed
Elrin’s wrists. Comfort was a subjective experience and he was in
no mind to complain, lest they clamp him in irons as an
alternative. They were taken below another deck and past rows of
barrels, many marked with the same seal as those that nearly
exploded on the docks.

Elrin was the
reason the ship was still afloat, he was the hero not the criminal.
Being an adventurer was a tricky business, the pitfalls of doing
good deeds were not apparent in the tales of his father’s exploits.
The bardic interpretation of adventure had glossed over the
injustice of punishment by association.

It was all
just a simple misunderstanding. Surely if he explained his story to
Commodore Pelegrin, he would be let off. After all, Elrin hadn’t
attacked any Jandans, let alone their commanding officer and he had
nothing to do with Delik or this rebellion business. There would be
one chance to show his innocence when the Commodore came to
interrogate them, Elrin just hoped he didn’t ask too many questions
about why he wasn’t back in Calimska.

Elrin and Delik were prodded further down into
Juniper
’s dark interior.
When they arrived in the ship’s prison hold, Elrin was surprised at
how large it was. He thought it would be a small temporary cell for
a few prisoners.


Big enough for a small village isn’t it,” said
Delik.


Shut it grub!” The junior officer smacked Delik on the back
of the head with the flat of his blade, knocking the shankakin to
his knees.

Delik
staggered to his feet. “Why don’t you untie me and give it another
try?”

The officer
ignored the remark. “Throw ‘em in this one,” he said, pointing to
the first empty cell. “They’ll have some company soon.”

Delik and
Elrin were shoved in, stumbling onto the filthy sand covered deck.
The thin layer of sand may have been fresh and white once, but now
it told of grim journeys, patches were stained brown from blood and
worse—the lone bucket in the corner of the cell reeked. The marines
locked the cage door and left, leaving them to relax alone in the
disgusting prison.

Delik found
himself a relatively clean spot and sat down, leaning against the
iron bars that carved up the hold. “You’ve been mighty quiet for
someone who’s just got locked up for doing nothing.”


I haven’t had the best of luck these past few days. I guess
I’m all out of protest.” Elrin attempted to sit up without rolling
in a patch of dried excrement; bile rose in his throat.


Nasty in here isn’t it?”


Have you been in here before?”


Not this ship, but one just like it. That one was packed to
the gills. Believe me, an empty prison hold is a real
treat.”

Elrin was
growing tired of these little mysteries. “A decent answer would be
a real treat. Why did you provoke him like that? Look where it got
us!”


That’s fair I suppose. You heard of Tillydale?”


No. Where is that?” Elrin found a somewhat comfortable
position away from the worst of the smell. “Is that where you’re
from?”


Where
was
that? That’s what you should be asking. You’re not from the
coast are you?”


Is it that obvious?”


You got the looks of a shiner from over the range, but your
Jandan’s too perfect for there and too proper for these border
towns. Where you from then?”

Delik’s
interest was disconcerting and Elrin still had no lie ready to
tell. The truth came too quick to his lips. “I’m from
Calimska.”


Hells, why’d you leave? I’d love to go to the City of Gold,
but I’ve never had the shine to pay the toll.”


I’m an adventurer. I left home a month ago seeking my
fortune. One day I hope to be famous like the great hero of the
coast, Arbajkha.” Elrin decided fitting the lies amongst the truth
would be more believable.


Hero? When was this?” Delik chuckled. “It’s a long time since
I’ve heard of heroes gracing the coast. Plenty of bounty hunters
though, plenty of thieves and thugs too.”


Surely you know him. He once battled a great wyrm to save a
small village from certain destruction.” Elrin’s eyes
brightened.


Really, a wyrm eh?” Delik shook his head. “Him and the hells’
five armies maybe. Where is he now? We need a few like that on our
side.”


Mother says he’s dead, but I don’t believe it.”


Why not trust your own mother?”


A dragon came to her in a dream and said he wouldn’t return
again.”


I see,” said Delik, trying to be delicate. “Is she, um,
addled?”


Of course not! She knows all the sagas off by heart and can
play any song on any instrument. She used to be head of the Bard’s
Guild.”


Why not now?”

Elrin hung his
head. “Father just up and disappeared on us. Everything went to
dust. They say she went mad, but she just gets a touch confused
sometimes. She just misses him.”


Are you saying that this Arbajkha fella is your
father?”


I was hoping not to say that, actually. Not the best liar, am
I?”


Might it be, he came from somewhere else? The West Coast?
Tashiska?”


No. He was a great hero. He protected the coast. This coast.
He even went to the Hoard Islands and took back stolen treasures
hoarded by the dragons. He helped the villagers.”


You sure?”


Yes!” Why didn’t they know about his father on the coast?
“Even in Calimska they’ve heard of his adventures. Mother sang his
song all the time.”


Your mother, eh?” Delik rubbed the stubble on his chin. “What
if she wa–“


Look, I should be the one asking the questions.” Elrin’s face
flushed. “What’s the story with you and the Captain?”


I’m sure he’d prefer you call him Commodore.” Delik gave a
bitter grin. “He attacked my homeland. He led the attacks on
Tillydale, killed most of us and enslaved the rest.”


Why?”


That’s a long bloody story.” Delik thought for a moment.
“Jandans believe everything belongs to their god; the living, the
dead, the soil, the sea. They come across the ocean spilling tales
of their almighty Lord. They tell us they are the Lord’s chosen and
that they are the keepers of his dominion. So they lay claim to
everything.”


Even the dead?”


O’course the dead! Has all that shine blinded you lot? Or is
the air to thin up there in your golden nest? Never mind the dead,
they’re bound to find their way to the dirt; Ona takes all back to
her bosom in time. It’s the living that feel the
injustice.”


Are you talking about their poaching priests? What they do is
vile.”


That’s just part of it. It’s the whole way they think that’s
backwards. They claim my people are the property of the Council of
Jando because we occupy the Lord’s sacred territory; which as far
as I can tell is any spot on Oranica the Council takes a fancy too.
They seized our towns and placed them under Jandan administration.
Our lands were taken, but we were forced to keep working them. Our
produce was sent to Jando and we had to buy our food back at higher
prices. We were given protection in exchange for a tithe; our
children.”


How could you do that? Give away your own
children?”


What? Don’t be daft! It’s not so simple as that. First off,
they stole them. Then they took control of our villages and under
the sword of the administrators we were starving and desperate.
They harvested us as we did our orchards. Our elders were bribed,
tortured or replaced until they signed our lives away. They took
the strong or the troublesome so we would never rebel and if one
family hid their child another family would report them so their
own might have a better chance. You couldn’t trust anyone. Some
even stole children from neighbouring villages to pass off as their
own for tithe. It was a terrible time.”

Elrin was
struck by the pain Jando had caused. “I knew Jandans owned slaves,
but I never really understood what went on down there. Why did they
attack Tillydale and your other towns if they were already under
Jandan control?”


Patience lad; you’ve got to know the roots of the story
before you’ll understand why the crops got the rot. Over time some
of our people, who were slaves to high serving councillors and the
rich and influential in Jando, persuaded the Council to allow us
more rights. See, first they had us as equal to wild game on the
Jandan estates. Shankakin were no more to them than produce for
trade; we had less rights than any slaves. Once the laws changed we
could own property and have a decent standard of living. We were
not to be shackled or caged unless proven of crimes or misconduct
through the courts. Owners breaching this would face fines. We also
had the right to win our freedom through pardon or
purchase.”

Elrin was
fascinated. Kleith had done his best to teach him, but there was so
much history that he didn’t know, particularly the history of the
Coast. “Then what about tithing your children and the Jandan
administrators?”


Our children were still the property of Jando, but the
military was stood down. We had shankakin overmen installed to
govern each village. They were Jandan stooges, but conditions
relaxed and our crop yields increased, so the Jandans were happy.
They still had their slaves and were getting a bigger profit from
them.”


How is that any better?” Elrin was shocked that their kin
enforced the slavery. It was outlawed in Calimska, though
anti-guilders said apprentices were no different to slaves for the
guilds. At least an apprentice had a wage and lodgings. This was
too awful to understand. “Surely, you couldn’t have gone on like
that.”


We had no other choice, until my father formed an underground
movement to end the Jandan hold on our lands. Many years past
before the rebellion was ready to seize our towns back. Shankakin
are little people, but we have a lot of patience. We succeeded; the
shankakin outside of Jando were free and not a drop of our blood
was spilt.”

Elrin could
never have been so patient, endured those conditions under the
corrupted overmen. He nodded for Delik to continue.


We knew it wouldn’t be long before they would send the
military to take the towns back by force. My father led the defence
of Tillydale. I fought there as well. Each town repelled the forces
sent against it. Jando didn’t think it would take much. They
calculated that we would be under resourced, but we had been
stockpiling food and weapons for years. We harried the troops as
they moved towards the towns and cut off their supply lines.
Without our villagers supplying food to Jando, their city and their
soldiers starved.


That’s when Jando proposed a truce. We negotiated territorial
borders and trade with Jando. Our children were ours
again.”


So you did it, you won your freedom,” said Elrin, his eyes
bright.


Not quite; the slaves in Jando were still not free. A
splinter group of rebels wouldn’t be satisfied until every single
soul had their liberation. They would steal slaves from Jando and
release them.


Many joined that group, led by my father. I disagreed with
him. I thought it would provoke Jando, and it did. They attacked
without warning; waves of soldiers and redeemers claimed us. Our
towns were levelled; soil and soul defiled. Pelegrin was in charge
of deporting our survivors by ship to Jando for slavery, but that
bastard couldn’t help himself. He wanted blood and sailed his ship
up river following the marching army, blasting shot into any who
fled to the water’s edge. First Tillydale, then Crooked Creek, all
the way up to Pumpkinvale. It was a massacre.


Rewarded for his bravery too, can you believe it? He was
sinking unarmed boats laden with women and children. He’s a
commodore now, for that. I remembered him when he took me, swore
I’d kill him if I ever saw him again. In Jando, I was worse than a
slave. My people blamed me for it all.”

BOOK: Dragon Choir
13.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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