Read Dragon Choir Online

Authors: Benjamin Descovich

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

Dragon Choir (9 page)

BOOK: Dragon Choir
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Rather than
ask around, Elrin decided to look around. The head docker usually
stood out as the most frustrated; some burly, barrel-chested,
pot-bellied hulk, pointing and yelling abuse. He jumped up on a
stack of unloaded crates to get a better view. Sharing the docks
with a few trade galleys and fishing skiffs was an intimidating
Jandan frigate, its three masts towering higher than any other. It
was at least twice the length of the biggest merchant ship in the
harbour.

The immensity
of the frigate and the number of crew that worked its decks
impressed upon Elrin the muscle Jando flexed to control Rum Hill.
With the Navy holding the port, they secured trade and tax revenues
for Jando without having to fortify an outpost on land. It was a
simple minded strategy, with merit for expanding Jandan control
along the coast, but did nothing to improve life for the locals.
One of the books he had snuck from the merchant guild’s library
articulated a treatise on the failings of these ham-fisted
approaches to rent seeking. Elrin thought it was obvious enough
without the lengthy explanation; if the people suffer your revenue
base suffers.

A shrill
whistle from the centre of the shipyard caught Elrin’s attention. A
man sat on a chair so tall there was a ladder to reach the top. He
was like a brusque canary on its perch, whistling commands through
a loudhorn. Piercing notes rose and fell, alternating between
broken pulses and long calls. His shirt was bright yellow and he
had a matching hat with a piece of cloth hanging over his neck and
ears. The peak at the front shaded his eyes. He wore loose trousers
that extended to his knees, exposing his leather brown legs
below.

Elrin jumped
down from the stack of crates and walked to the high chair. From
below he couldn’t see the man, just a pair of hairy brown calloused
feet dangling over the chair.


Hello.”

The little man
kept on whistling, ignoring Elrin below.

He yelled
louder. “Excuse me!”

The lead
docker leaned forward, staring down between his feet with a dark
look.


What? This is no safe place for a shiner. Go
home.”


No, I think you misunderstand, I wa—”


There’s no throne down here, lad. Head back to town or muck
in the bushes, then bugger off!”


No. That’s not what I mean—”

A loud
explosion sounded from the central pier where the Jandan frigate
was moored. Smoke drifted above a stack of crates and barrels,
flames licking at the timber.

The little
yellow man put the cone to his mouth and shouted down at Elrin.
“Get out of here boy. Now!”

In a moment of
brilliance, Elrin knew exactly how to earn his way to Jando. He ran
to the smoking crates while the canary went berserk atop his perch.
Men raced about in all directions. Elrin got to the fire and
realised that he had no pail of water and an empty bladder.

More crates
were lighting up and workers nearby leapt into the water, swimming
to safety. Elrin stood alone on the pier, unaided by the marines on
the frigate who only stared at the barrels in terror. The officers
were shouting orders to raise anchor while sailors jumped
overboard.

The barrels
bore the stamp of a cannon and a flame. Elrin’s stomach dropped;
black powder. He was going to be pierced with splinters and fried
for the fool he was.

The frigate
captain’s face begged for a miracle, but Elrin was no sorcerer. The
heat from the crates intensified. He gripped the hilt of his dagger
and imagined what his father might do.

He kicked out
at the flaming crates in the hope it might prevent the volatile
barrels bringing his quest to an abrupt end. Sparks leapt into the
air and the flames licked out, singeing his leg hair. The crates
rocked forward in their stack, but then rocked back towards him. He
kicked again and several flaming crates fell into the water,
sizzling as they were smothered out. Encouraged by that, he struck
out once more. Some tumbled back along the pier, but he quickly
knocked them off before the decking itself caught alight. Soon all
the crates were in the water, even the ones that weren’t on fire
had accidentally gone in; victims of his enthusiasm. When he
stopped he noticed his boot and pants had caught alight.

Elrin was just
about to dive off the pier when a gush of water sloshed onto his
legs, dousing the flames. The head dockman had rushed to help with
a bucket of water, his yellow shirt glaring under the sun. No one
else wanted to come near; most of the dockers had taken shelter
behind the cargo stacked about the shipyard. Others had run halfway
up the road to town, hoping to witness the impending explosion from
a safe distance.


By the root! You’re a brave shiner,” said the head docker,
slapping Elrin’s back. Most men I’ve known don’t run towards
certain death.”

Now that the
man was off his perch, Elrin realised his small stature. He only
came up to Elrin's elbow, which presented a problem of
clarification; was he dwarven or a shankakin? He was leaner than a
dwarf, but taller than any shankakin he had met in Calimska. He had
no beard, but that was no sure sign he wasn't a dwarf; he had no
boots, but that was no sure sign he was a shankakin. Elrin tried
not to stare and mumbled a reply. “I suppose death wasn’t so
certain. You ran here too.”


Don’t get me wrong, I saw you doing a stand up job, but I
thought I’d lend you a hand. I’ve found running toward fires with a
full bucket of water works out better for me.” The canary man
pointed to his large feet. They were covered in thick hair and
disproportionately large in comparison with his short, compact
frame; he had to be a shankakin.


Didn’t want to cause a bushfire on your hoofers huh?” Elrin
laughed. “Thanks for saving mine.”


Not at all, lad. You saved me rebuilding the pier. The thanks
are mine. You’re a bloody idiot though.” He beckoned Elrin closer
and lowered his voice. “Next time kick these barrels of hellfire
off instead. I know many who’d thank you for that around
here.”

The officers
screamed orders down the chain of command, rallying the men back to
their posts. A ramp pushed past the bulwark and dropped onto the
pier with a thud. Two Jandan marines escorted an ogre in chains
down the gangplank.

One of them,
an officer with a brutal grimace, cracked his whip across the
ogre’s bare back. The ogre shuffled his legs faster in an awkward
motion that strained the planks. They bowed and flexed, yet held
against the punishment.

Every ogre
Elrin heard tell of was covered head to foot in grotesque images of
their tribal totems. This one had no ink, only scars, new and old,
carving a painful landscape across his brown green skin. Blood
caked over the shackles and heavy chains restricted his movement;
slavery had reduced the fearsome warrior to a beast of burden.

He grasped a
barrel in each hand and lifted them with the ease of two mugs of
ale. For a moment his keen blue eyes considered Elrin. The officer
behind him dispensed another lash and the ogre winced, dropping his
eyes to the ground. His enormous body shambled around and stomped
up the gangplank to load the black powder on the ship.

The frigate's
commanding officer strode down the gangway. He was a handsome man
with an air of insistence that projected from him like a spear.
Sunlight spun sharp lines off his polished buttons and buckles. His
blue overcoat highlighted his sunburnt cheeks and the crisp white
collar of his undershirt.


What’s your name boy? You just saved our dear
Juniper
a week in
drydock.” His voice carried an expectation of
compliance.

Elrin
hesitated to answer—he couldn’t use his real name.

The head
dockman moved between them, his yellow shirt playing in the breeze.
He was the blazing sun stealing the horizon from a dark blue
sky.


Keep your mitts off him, Pelegrin. He’s not
interested.”

Pelegrin
stretched a difficult smile, refusing to look at the shankakin.
“I’m sure the boy is interested in a reward for his bravery. Aren’t
you boy?”

Elrin was
about to answer, but was cut off.


Bravery! Ha! Stupidity more like, should have pushed your
hellfire off before risking his life.”

Pelegrin’s
attention snapped away from Elrin and thrust upon his antagoniser.
“I’ll have you for conspiracy against the Council for that. Who by
divine redemption are you?”


Delik. Name ring any bells in your hollow head? Or are you
still listening to the sound of your own divine trumpet?” Delik’s
big feet were set firmly in place. Like the frigate to the galley,
Pelegrin towered head and shoulders over him.


Recant, grub!” Pelegrin spat onto the deck and reached for
his sabre.

Delik kept his
voice even, his demeanour pleasant. “If I’d known it was you up
here in this murdering hulk you call a ship, I’d have come to
welcome you sooner. I heard you had a promotion after wiping out
Tillydale, or did you dress up some other cowardice as glory for
your bloodthirsty Lord?”

The shankakin
held his ground, daring Pelegrin to draw his weapon. Delik had
nerve; positioning his body close enough to strike before Pelegrin
could draw his sabre. The smaller man had to be betting he’d be
fast enough in close quarters to have a chance against a military
officer.

Elrin took a
step back; he didn’t want to get caught by a swinging blade. None
of Pelegrin’s men noticed the unfolding conflict and the pier was
empty save the barrels of black powder nearby and some noisy gulls.
Pelegrin had no support, but was unwilling to show any weakness and
call for assistance.


I am a Commodore, you filthy grub. You’d best remember that.
I command this frigate and the four galleons birthed in the cove.
If a runt like you is running these docks then I’ve good reason to
suspect you had something to do with this fire.” Pelegrin’s
frustration disappeared as something dawned on him and a cruel grin
creased his precise features. “Oh, I see ... This is another
pathetic rebellion attack isn't it? Are you sure you want to test
me? Didn’t work out so well for Tillydale. Come to think of it,
Pumpkinvale and Crooked Creek won’t be giving us any trouble now
either. All you shankakin whelps should be back in chains. If you
ask me, the Council should never have let your lot out.”

Delik seethed,
his face red and trembling, lips curled in bit-back fury. Elrin
took another step back. The ogre appeared again on the main deck,
making his way back to load more of the black powder barrels.


Give the grubs a stitch and they’ll ruin the seam,” Pelegrin
sneered. “My father had it right. Let a few out of chains and off
they run to scheme against their betters. That’s how your lot
reward kindness. Thought you could win against the Lord’s chosen,
but you’re pathetic backwards insects, all of you.”


Speaking of fathers,” said Delik, hatred sparking off each
word. “You’re going to help me find mine.”

Pelegrin
laughed “Of course! I’ll be sure to take you straight to the
prison. What is daddy’s name? The gaoler has such a long list.”


Jaspa Scrambletoe.”

Pelegrin lost
his smirk. His eyes flicked to the side, searching for aid. He
pulled at his sabre and yelled. “Seize the—”

Delik lanced
forward, grabbing Pelegrin’s sword arm at the wrist before his
blade could escape. The shankakin’s hand was a blur, striking at
Pelegrin’s elbow with furious precision. Crunching bones paired
with a strangled yelp as Delik twisted the crippled arm downwards
and kicked his foot high into Pelegrin’s groin. Pelegrin doubled
over, allowing Delik to smash his fist square into the Jandan’s
handsome face. Pelegrin reeled backwards in a stumbling
retreat.

Elrin was
astonished at the speed and strength of the shankakin. Pelegrin
groaned, half hunched over, not sure whether to hold his groin or
his maimed sword arm.

A shout went
up on the frigate and a whistle blew, summoning a blur of blue
uniforms to action. Marines lined the gunwale, training their
crossbows at Elrin and Delik. A unit charged down the gangplank to
the pier, swords drawn. Delik held his hands high, turning his back
to the rush of sabres.


Put your clappers up, lad. Don’t try and run.”

Elrin did as
Delik said, there was no other option; they were surrounded.


Don’t kill them! These two will have our special treatment. I
want them myself. Throw them in the cells.” Pelegrin’s voice shook
with anger and obvious pain, blood fell from his broken nose. “Make
them ... comfortable.”

Elrin and Delik were escorted up the gangplank onto the war
ship, swords at their backs. Joyless crewmen worked
Juniper’s
pristine
decks; whether indentured or enslaved, they were in need of a
decent meal. Given the marines guarding them, some must have traded
the slow rot of a prison sentence for trial by sea. Or, perhaps,
they were captured from pirate attacks and given a choice; serve or
die.

The crew kept
their heads down and out of trouble, wary of the blue uniforms on
patrol. Elrin hoped he would have the same option. He needed a
convincing story or the dead letter would have him put in a box to
Calimska.

Just before
the marines escorted them down the hatch into the bowels of the
frigate a scrawny bronze boy swabbing the deck tripped over his
bucket and knocked into Delik. They went down in a heap.

Delik tried to
wriggle out of the boy’s tangle of arms and legs. “Get him off
me!”

BOOK: Dragon Choir
9.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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