Thunder claps in the greying sky as the merchant ship Garnet continues its voyage to the trade city of Solharbour although unknown to its captain and company, they are missing a few items of value and some crew mates.
‘What’s wrong Jasper?’
Jasper loosens his grip on the oar of the rowboat and holds out his palm as a sharp snap cracks his fingers.
‘Ah, shit Eunan, it’s starting to hail. Why did we get off just now? Couldn’t we have waited until we were closer to port?’
‘If we had waited any longer, the deck hands of the dawn shift would have found us. You’re a noisy git sometimes. I’m surprised you didn’t wake up the entire crew dragging all of that into the boat.’
After a few relatively uneventful months sailing under the employ of the Merchant Guild, these two men of many trades decided that they’d had enough of cleaning pots and cooking meals for their ‘stuck up and stingy with the ale’ merchant captain. Three days, four oars and a rowboat later, they came to the collective decision to relieve their former ship of some of its cumbersome valuables and plentiful supplies and set out in the dead of night to make a profit with the intention of lining their own pockets for once.
‘Wait, why are we sinking?’ asks Eunan with a puzzled frown.
‘Well these hail stones are sodding huge and there’s about ten of them by your boots. It’s like Kohnar’s horse is shitting on us from the sky.’
‘The god of war’s horse, a mythical creature of legend, just happens to be riding through this storm and is shitting hail on us?’
‘Aye. Fuck off you daft mare’ shouts Jasper into the dark clouds as a lump of hail clatters his skull with a thud. ‘Bastard sky horses!’
‘Maellor help me, I’m sailing with a fool.’
Eunan squints as he looks behind his partner, still rubbing his head to nullify the stinging cold, to see the black steel bend of a cask jutting out of the burlap sheet covering their spoils.
‘Don’t play the mug you wretched cumber-lump. That cask behind you.’
‘Oh, come one Eunan, you know I can’t resist a decent sip of wine and this, this is the good stuff’ exclaims Jasper. ‘Ophiran red wine. The captain had a whole crate of them stashed in his room. What was I supposed to do, just leave it there being all delicious and whatnot? Madness!!’
‘What’s madness is that we’re still hours away from shore, we’re taking on water and you don’t seem to realise that your prized tipple of choice is the reason we are bloody sinking.’
‘Are you sure it’s not these icy shit nuggets?’
‘Throw it over now you silly prick!’
‘You’re a good swimmer and a bit chubby. Why don’t you hop out for a bit and have yourself a paddle until the hail stops?’
‘I momentously dislike you at the moment. Throw the cask over or I will.’
Jasper stops rowing for a moment and contemplates his impending future. He pulls the sheet covering their plunder over his head, completely oblivious to the fact that his shoes are now filling with sea water. Eunan hurriedly pulls his oars up, tosses a small bucket of apples overboard and starts scooping the water out of the boat as quickly as he can. Confused and agitated by his partners dim-witted meanderings he glares at Jasper, like an angry wolf that got poked in the face one too many times.
Jasper reaches behind him to the rear and begins to rummage around. He pulls out an old shield, one that is finely polished and marked with the emblem of a mercenary company famed for their prowess as stalwart combatants and honourable warriors. It is scuffed slightly but has been remarkably well preserved and is over two hundred years old.
‘No Jasper, don’t you dare throw…’
Before Eunan can even finish his sentence, the shield has been tossed overboard and is now sinking to the bottom of the Severed Sea.
‘I cannot believe my eyes’ gasps Eunan as he drops the bucket and stares into the water as the fading shimmer of the old shield sinks slowly away from sight.
‘That one bit of history would have fetched a hundred gold pieces in Elumbria. Two hundred crowns in Ayrlaston and likely twice that in Lochland.’
Jasper uncorks the cask slowly and carefully so as not to contaminate his prize with the salty brine of the sea. With closed eyes and vigorous appreciation, he sniffs hard and long as the scent of the wine fills his nostrils. A wide grin appears on his face.
‘You just threw over a years’ worth of profit for one cask of that sodding drink!’
‘Don’t worry, this wine will fetch a damn good price. You know those farlings in Sollistar love a bit of Balothyan red.’
‘A fine idea, if it were not for the fact that it’ll be empty by the time we get anywhere near Amarath. Come here you swine, I’m going to knock some sense into you!!’
Eunan strides through the sea water with an implacable purpose over to his partner and slaps him right across the face with a satisfying clap to rival the very thunder itself. So hard is his blow that Jasper drops his cask and his precious wine begins pouring into the boat.
‘No…….NO! Where’s the cork? Maellor help me, where is the fucking CORK?!’
They both look down to see it sloshing around in the boat as it floats among the thick concoction of salty water and red wine. Both intrepid profit seekers hurl themselves at it with the ferocity of a bear hunting a slippery salmon as they bat it about, not caring one bit that they are still slowly sinking.
An hour or so later…
‘I’m sorry Eunan. You know what I’m like when I get even a sniff of it.’
‘Yes, I am well aware. You abandon all sense and reason and it usually ends with me having to strike you which, if I’m being honest, does provide a small measure of comfort. I’m surprised you didn’t pounce on it the moment you saw it in the captain’s quarters.’
‘I did. His other casks’ emptier than when I found it.’
‘Are you going to give me another sip or not?’
Jasper holds up his drink and shakes it to hear what little of the wine remains and sighs as he begrudgingly passes it over. After one long, intentionally gluttonous glug that almost drains the cask of its aromatic contents, Eunan looks out to sea to watch the storm that almost sank them fade into the distance. They sit, almost huddled, on their overturned rowboat as the morning sun begins to greet them. Jasper then reclaims the last of his prize and pouts as he contemplates how best to enjoy the last few drops.
‘Which way to Lochland?’
Eunan looks at the rising sun and points north west.
‘Believe me, you don’t want to know. I wouldn’t get used to the feeling of your toes though, or your bollocks for that matter. It’s going to get chilly.’
‘At least its stopped hailing.’
Eunan gazes into the sky, takes a deep breath and with the slightest of grins proceeds to push his companion back into the sea along with his precious cask of Ophiran wine.
‘Shut up Jasper.’