The World Of Khoras - Fan Work
Seven Kegs a Floating
A short story based in the ‘World of Khoras’ created by David Roomes
Steven R. Journey
Jeral Danner, thief, rogue, and general all around wise-guy knew something was different when he woke. Maybe it was the fact he was tied to a post. Or maybe it was because the post was swaying along with the rest of the ship it was attached to. He wasn’t entirely sure, but he was fairly convinced that was somehow bad.
He really wasn’t in a position to complain.
The gurgling in his stomach told him it objected to this kind of treatment and it was about to take severe steps to let him know, just in case he wasn’t paying attention. If his stomach wasn’t bad enough, the water sloshing and swirling about his feet spoke of a greater need.
Now that’s a rude way to wake up, Jeral thought as he slowly opened his eyes.
Sigh…I hate waking up.
He reached to rub his tired eyes, but came up short. His hands were tied behind his back, and around the post. He slowly lowered himself down to a crouch and stretched, almost to the breaking point, reaching for his left boot. He could feel his tendons protesting, but he needed the dagger he hoped was still concealed in his boot.
He let out all the air out of his lungs to stretch that last inch. His straining fingers touched the hilt and popped the slim dagger free of the boot top. Breathing again, he quickly cut through the leather straps holding him to the post. He grunted in pain as the blood returned to his wrists and hands. Yep. That’s gonna leave a mark, he thought as he rubbed them down where the rough leather had creased his flesh.
He did a quick inventory of his possessions. Lessee, clothing? Vest, shirt, pants, boots. Check. Dagger? Check. Lock-pick in boot? Check. Coin purse? 2 silver, 6 copper. Check. Fingers and toes? Seven and ten. Check and check.
Jeral looked around for a way out of the hold. Spotting a trapdoor in the deck above, he stood on a crate and slowly pushed the trap open and looked into the mouth of Hell.
Wind and water flew in his face as he peered through the trap. A boot suddenly appeared inches from the opening and stepped away as quickly. Across the deck of the ship men were battling the storm, as well as each other. Jeral could see a small group of sailors, whom he assumed were the remnants of the ship’s crew, defending themselves poorly against a group of raiders.
He threw the trap open and leapt onto the deck, hoping to find a row boat or dinghy and escape in the confusion. A sailor to his left screamed something that Jeral couldn’t hear through the din. He vaguely suspected it had something to do with him, but didn’t exactly care as he weaved his way through the combatants.
A mace wielding raider attacked him. Jeral thought it prudent to duck. He sensed more than felt the air displacement as the mace whistled past his ear. Moving smoothly past the raider’s guard he stabbed him through the heart with a quick motion of his wrist, and was past him before the body fell twitching to the deck.
Jeral saw a small boat lashed to the rail and moved toward it. Removing the cover from the boat, Jeral began to lift, when he saw a shadow on the gunwale. He rolled, twisting to his right, narrowly avoiding the sword stroke aimed for his skull. The sword made a loud crack as it buried itself an inch deep in the wood railing. Jeral came up in a fighter’s crouch to face his assailant, who was having trouble extracting his blade from its predicament. Jeral neatly kicked him in the solar-plexus.
The raider’s lungs decided they really didn’t need all that air in them anyway. I mean what good is breathing when you can just quit? So they just gave up and promptly expelled as much of his breath as they possibly could. The raider was understandably upset by all this. He didn’t have long to think it over however, as Jeral quickly cut his throat, and wiped the blade clean on the deceased’s shirt before returning it to his boot sheath.
Shaking his head Jeral turned toward the boat when the deck bucked under his feet, tilting the world at a crazy angle. He flew over the gunwale, hitting his head on the way by, and hit the icy water with a splash. Gasping for breath, he struggled to swim through the raging sea, the waves cresting and filling his mouth with the acrid taste of saltwater. The head wound making him dizzy, he bobbed and paddled his way to a nearby pile of flotsam, and levered himself over a floating barrel. He rubbed the newly acquired bump on his head, saw blood on his hand and never wanting to pass up an opportunity for dramatics, promptly passed out.
Somebody answer the Barrinor be-damned door! Jeral thought angrily. Wait. Huh? Door? I don’t want to know. What could it be? Could be anything. Should I open my eyes? No? Well, maybe just a little peak. No?
I hate waking up.
Jeral opened his right eye a fraction of an inch and saw nothing.
Nothing. That’s good. Nothing is good. Yeah, I’ll just keep telling myself that.
He lifted his head and looked around.
Wall. I see a wall. That’s interesting. Water too. What would a wall be doing near water? Maybe I should shut my eyes and think about it for a while. Maybe take another nap? No? Alright, back to the wall. Anything above? Stars. Stars is good. Wait. What am I holding on to? Barrel. Huh. Barrel?
Verra’s tits! What the bloody-hell is that THUMPING? Oh. The barrel is bumping into the wall. Hmm.
A rope fell out the darkness and hit the bemused Jeral on his bump. He testily rubbed his wound and grasped the trailing end of the rope. Hauling himself up hand over hand he escaped the cold clutches of the sea. Reaching the top he crouched behind a rail, and looked at the miraculous sight before him. Lights. As far as his salt-licked eyes could see.
Where am I? Jeral asked himself.
“Welcome to Seven Kegs, Stranger,” a voice called out nearby in answer to the unvoiced question.
Before he could duck back the way he came, a rough calloused hand grabbed him by the collar and hauled him unceremoniously over the rail. Jeral found himself hanging two feet off the ground in the grasp of a beady eyed orc. Well, beady-eyed, half-orc. A big, beady-eyed half-orc. No. Make that a big, beady-eyed half-orc, with a big bloody battle axe strapped across his chest.
“You picked an odd means of entrance, mate”, the half-orc said as he held Jeral up by the scruff of the neck. “We’re going to take a little trip, you and I. I expect you to be a good boy and not struggle, for if you do I’m sure you’ll love the taste of my little friend here,” patting the fearsome looking battle axe.
After a short, confusing trip over gunwales and planks, past ropes and rigging, through cabins and holds, the half-orc dragged Jeral into a jail cell. Jeral thought the sound of the lock was particularly disheartening. It had a ring of finality to it.
Halfway out of the jail door the half-orc said, “Can’t deal with you now, mate. You’ll stay here until such time as I can find to spare.”
“That’s comforting,” Jeral replied.
“Get a good night’s sleep, mate. You’ll need it.”
Jeral nodded to his exiting jailer, climbed onto the awaiting cot, and closed his eyes.
I hate waking up.
Oh, no. Not again.
Jeral felt this waking up to strange sounds thing, was getting a little old.
God. The rocking hasn’t stopped either. Blasted storm.
Jeral sat up with a start to find his half-orc captor sitting on an obviously weight-challenged little stool, sharpening that big, bloody axe. Wielding a small whetstone, the orc’s hands caressed the blade’s edge with an ecstasy that verged on the pornographic. Jeral’s stomach was feeling the need to have another very serious talk with him sometime in the immediate future.
Jeral hung his head. I hate waking up.
“What was that, mate?” the half-orc said, looking up from his reverie.
Jeral fought off an urge to shiver and said, “Did I say that out loud? Never mind. Am I in trouble or something, or do you always lock up castaways?”
The half-orc laughed. “You’re not in any trouble. I didn’t have anyplace better to keep you over night, so there you sit. The door was always open. You looked a bit be sodden last night, so I thought you would appreciate a dry and comfortable place to sleep it off.”
Jeral nodded his thanks.
“What’s your name, mate?” asked the half-orc.
“Well Jeral, I’m Manx, Deputy Lawkeeper here on Seven Kegs. I take it you’ve not been here before?”
“First time,” Jeral acknowledged.
“Not everyone is as lucky as you then.” Manx smiled. “If you don’t know the story, Seven Kegs is a floating village at sea. Originally, there were seven Captains who agreed to lash their ships together to survive a horrendous storm, not unlike the one we’re having now. After the storm they decided the arrangement was beneficial to them all and stayed that way. Now, we’ve grown in number to seventy-two boats, barges, and ships floating together in a semi-permanent arrangement. The original seven ships occupy the middle of our little flotilla, and make up the core of Seven Kegs. We can take a look around it later if you’d like.”
“Thanks. Um…Manx, is it? I haven’t eaten in a few days. Food would do wonders for my stomach, if not my curiosity in the local architecture.”
“Sure. You’re free to go. Head over to the Rogue Wave, two ships to port and one aft, if you’ve a mind for a meal and an ale or two. We’re pretty relaxed here, Jeral, and we don’t like trouble, so keep your nose clean and enjoy yourself while you’re here. Tell old Dristlor at the Rogue Wave, Manx sent you.”
Jeral nodded sleepily, his arms extended in a cat-like stretch.
Manx froze. “You have seven fingers, mate.”
Jeral winced. “I was a thief in a former life. And not a very good one as you can see, “wiggling his fingers at the half-orc.
“Seven is a lucky number around here, being the original number of ships and all. Folks can get pretty superstitious about it. You take care showing them to people. Strange things happen in Seven Kegs around that number. I’ve seen good and evil come of omens like this. You see to it that it’s a good one. As for you being a thief, you make your ominous digits stay where they belong. Understand me, mate?”
Manx smiled, “Good. Now go grab yourself that meal your stomach has been hounding you about since I woke you.”
Reminded of his hunger, Jeral pounced on the opportunity to find some food. He wobbled a bit after standing up so quickly, the lump on his head pounding. Ungh, he thought, rubbing his head. Gotta have that looked at.
Outside, Jeral made his way through the storm across the rolling deck of Seven Kegs to the Rogue Wave via Manx’s directions. Now he was hungry, sore, and wet. Stepping inside the warm interior of the tavern, he was greeted by the wonderful smell of cooking meat. He nearly tripped over his own feet getting to the bar.
The tavern’s owner looked at the panting young man, with a tired smile. “Help you, Stranger?”
“Jeral,” points to himself. “Food. Ale. Woman. In that order, please. Oh, and if you’re Dristlor, Manx sent me.”
Laughing, “Yes, I am Dristlor. That’ll be a copper for the ale, a silver for the meal which is roast beef tonight, Erial had to slaughter a cow, poor thing, and a silver for the company.”
“Ha! Find a seat. I’ll bring your ale in a second. The meat is almost done. Shouldn’t be another ten minutes.”
“That will be fine. Thank you.”
Dristlor nodded at Jeral’s receding back.
Jeral found a table, sat with his back to the wall and relaxed. A short time later Dristlor appeared from the kitchen with a foamy tankard of ale. He sat down opposite Jeral, who took a long pull from the mug, slammed it down, and let out a long, but strangely contented sounding, belch.
“Pardon me“, he grinned and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
Dristlor started to wave it off, as if to say nothing surprises him anymore, and stopped cold. Looking at Jeral with suspicion in his eyes, he said, “You have seven…”
The tavern rocked upward suddenly throwing both men to the ground with a crash.
Struggling to regain his feet, Jeral was tossed to the deck again as the ship righted itself, a terrible grinding sounded in his ears. He turned wide-eyed to look at Dristlor, who was shouting something incomprehensible to his staff.
“Get yourself to Manx. We’ve got to get the ships unlashed before the storm tears us apart!” Dristlor shouted at Jeral.
Jeral wrenched the tavern door open and raced into the storm. Wind buffeted and whipped about him, stealing his breath away. The heavy rain cascading down in sheets upon the deck made for treacherous footing and slow going. He saw Manx in the distance among a large two tiered ring of masts. He was laying about himself with his axe, shearing through rope after rope. Manx leaped across the deck and neatly parted the last rope on the lower outer ring with a deft swing of his axe.
Manx stood like an island of calm in the midst of the raging storm, shouting orders to the panicking people of Seven Kegs. He wasn’t even breathing hard. Spying Jeral, he motioned for him to approach.
“Jeral!” he shouted, “Seven Kegs is breaking apart. I need to release the tension mechanism at the top of the main mast in the center. All the ropes of the upper tier are attached to it and run out to the outer ships. It’s holding the ships together. If I don’t get it free the ships will grind each other to dust, and we’ll all be meeting Semorjon. I have no desire to meet the sea-god before my appointed time.”
Manx pointed to the highest mast. “I need to climb up there to free it. We can’t cut the lines. They’re too high. I may need help. It’s risky and too much to ask of an outsider, but will you help?”
“Let’s go,” Jeral answered without hesitation. Maybe this is why I woke up today.
A grateful Manx smiled, and clapped a rugged hand on Jeral’s shoulder. With undisguised appreciation in his eyes Manx said, “Yes. Let’s go save Seven Kegs,” as he turned and ran for the inner circle of masts.
Looking up at the main mast, doubt crept in to Jeral’s mind. He shivered. His body just wasn’t up for this task. He was running on fumes, willpower and the small boost of energy the ale had given him. He whispered a short, bitter prayer to Hurellin, the god of thieves. He felt an annoying pressure on his back. He turned to see Manx gesturing him to climb or get out of the way. He climbed.
Halfway up the mast Jeral’s muscles protested. They began innocently enough with a light twitching that soon progressed into soreness, skipped numbness altogether, and went straight to burning. The wind and rain were relentless in their efforts to dislodge him from his precarious perch. He couldn’t feel his fingers, and yet he continued to climb.
A rope suddenly burst from its buckle on the tension plate and smacked the mast a foot above his head. It sizzled past him shearing off the upper hand holds. His heart beating wildly, Jeral looked down to see Manx make an empty handed effort to grasp a handle before falling away toward the deck. His body hit the mast on the way down and landed with a muffled thump on deck, thirty feet below.
Panic set in. Jeral was trapped. Manx had taken out the handles below and the rope had broken the ones above him. He looked around for an alternate route of escape. He saw a rope dangling 10 feet to his left, still attached to the tension release, but free of a ship. Maybe if he leapt to the next rope, he could climb to the top and free the tension release.
It’s only 10 feet. Easy stuff.
He steeled himself with a quick series of breaths, and launched himself into space. He grabbed the rope and swung out, slamming into the mast as the rope wound around it. Steadying himself with his feet against the mast he hauled himself up the rope to the tension release.
He surveyed the situation and made a startling discovery. There was no going back. The tension mechanism was designed to come free of the mast when released. There were no remaining hand holds on the mast. The rope he was gripping was attached to the release.
With the realization of his imminent doom, his senses sharpened. He could feel the grain of the rope in this hands, he could feel the difference between the sweat beading on his forehead and the rain descending on his face. The stitching of his pants became distinct from the weave of his shirt.
With a grim resolve he pulled the lever releasing the tension.
Maybe I won’t have to wake up again.
He was right.
Seven days later, the storm had blown itself out. The individual ships of Seven Kegs made their way to a previously planned rendezvous point, and began reconstruction. Taking a breather, Manx sat speaking with Dristlor in the Rogue Wave.
“He sure did. Climbed right up the main mast and hit the release. Damnedest thing I ever saw,” Manx said in amazement.
Dristlor smiled, “Good thing we had him shipped here then, eh?”
Manx raised his tankard to the sky in salute and smiled, “Lucky number ‘7’ strikes again.”
This page last updated Wednesday, December 24, 2008. Copyright 1990-2009 David M. Roomes.