26 January 2007

Sahm's Tale, Part 3

The roiling of the sea churned Sahm's stomach. It was a malady that he'd been cursed with since he'd set foot upon the ship. He had barely kept anything down for a week, and the weakness in his legs and arms was a telling result of his nausea-induced starvation. Speed was essential, or else he might have plied his skills on a northbound caravan instead of paying what little gold he had left for a passage northward by sea. Such a course wouldn't have been wise, for the men who sought him knew his manner. The caravans leaving Uman would be the first place they'd look.

Like the desert, the sea had its share of bandits. The rough weather that had risen suddenly as the shadows had grown long with the coming of night would keep the ship safe for the time being, but it presented its own dangers in return. Storms, brought on by nature's fickle whim and fueled by the winds that he worshipped, could tear boats to matchsticks and leave few traces of life behind. Sahm muttered a silent prayer as he gripped the rail, his knuckles white with the effort.

Pirates, they called them, these bandits of the waters: vagabonds who rode the waves in vessels both great and small, preying on wealthy and poor alike. Sahm did not fear them, and would, in fact, welcome the change of pace were such an encounter to occur. It would likely mean a quick end to his voyage, given the state of the crew. Though they seemed competent sailors, he didn't sense much fighting spirit in the men that crewed the ship he rode. Like as not, they would heave-to and allow their assailants to board without struggle.

"Best get below decks!" a crewman called, and Sahm turned towards the voice. It was the one they called Graven, a young Halfling with chestnut hair and a northerner's complexion. Sahm knew of Halflings, having seen them in his own homeland. The desert Halfling tribes were aloof, moving from oasis to oasis with the shifting sands of the wastes. Occasionally they would trade with the caravans that Sahm had accompanied, should their paths cross. On other occasions, they would raid them, quietly stealing into camp at night to pilfer cargo, or ambushing them en masse if the opportunity presented itself.

Sahm nodded to Graven. He could see that the weather was not going to improve. Though he despised going into the ship's cramped body, he saw little choice. The place stank of humanity, mold, and the creaking of the timbers was all around. Even though the horizon would not be visible, the violent reeling of the ship could still be felt. In fact, it seemed more pronounced down there, as items suspended from the ceiling swayed and swung in a manner that was far from hypnotic.

One more heave, Sahm thought, his stomach sour and his head beginning to ache. He retched over the side, but naught came up but yellow bile and foam. Spitting, he crept towards the ladder that would take him below, to the hammock that he'd scarcely slept in since his exile began. Graven watched him intently, his face betraying little sympathy for Sahm's discomfort. He, like the rest of the crew, was of northern descent. The men of the Southern Empire were good partners in times of peace, but the armies of the South had also been known to march north in search of conquest. A long history of war fueled distrust between their peoples, and Sahm could not blame the small sailor for his prejudices. He feared that he would find little hospitality at his destination, either.

The hammock waited in the dimly lit chamber, swaying with the rough tide. A lantern, suspended from the ceiling by a carefully-secured wire, swung in time with it. The room was close, little more than a closet, but it was a sanctuary of sorts. He climbed into the hammock weakly, shivering with wet and sickness, and closed his eyes. Anywhere but here, he thought. Had she been worth this? How could he have known, at the time, that his path would lead him here?

No, consequences were the last thing that had been on his mind.

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