Skulls and Shackles - PFO

The Vertigo of Standing On A Shore And Looking Out

One day is much like any other while at sea, so it is difficult to expect sudden and extreme change while pumping bilges during a perfectly ordinary work day. It has been more than a week since we escaped the Wormwood. From what the others have said took place, I hope I can assemble some semblance of accurate recollection, but you must bear in mind that I was not present for the event that instigated our little exile from Captain Harrigan’s demesne.

The others had been going about ordinary daily chores on top deck when Waku and Stehlen noticed Sava being accosted by two of Mr. Plugg’s men. From what I can gather, the halfling woman, who doesn’t even speak a word of Common and seems to be of quite an uncivilized background, did not take kindly to the threats and petty abuse while she swabbed the deck. A mop handle was broken over one of the men’s face and the jagged remaining end ended up in the shoulder of the other.

Waku and Stehlen felt obliged to intervene on Sava’s behalf, creating quite a spectacle for all on deck to take note of. La’Luka had been watching from the rigging where he was working, and I believe he attempted to lend aid as well, though I am not as clear on what happened exactly. I believe he might have drawn a weapon and fired it to either kill or very seriously injure one of Plugg’s men, considering Captain Harrigan’s reaction. My four friends were subdued and shackled in the bilges.

I imagine my expression must have been interesting, to see eight-odd crew stumping belowdecks with black eyes and blacker glares shooting back and forth. I realized of course that something violent must have happened, but I don’t think I could have known what would become of it.

The captain was in a rage, and called his officers together to discuss the punishment which Sandara Quinn alerted us was to be a keelhauling that evening for the “offending” members of the crew. Even pirates, it seems, have a keen understanding of the need for discipline and living crew while at sea.

Our allies among the crew put their heads together while we were still taking stock of the situation, such as it was with myself the only one not chained to a bulkhead (Mr. Plugg had remembered to anchor Owlbear in mid deck that day). While we were still managing to break free with the zealous use of a hammer, Barefoot Samms arrived to tell us of the plan they had concocted for us. Naturally we would rather not simply wait to see Sava and La’Luka keelhauled, so rebellion was the obvious choice to make for survival, even as ill-prepared as we were. Few of us fancied our chances at open mutiny without more time to prepare, and Sandara Quinn had arranged with Grok for a little “diversion” to cover our lowering of the longboat and the fouling of the main mast rigging. We snatched what we could with what little time we had, and emerged on top deck to a well-timed burlesque game which the women staged on our behalf. By the time we were in the water and shoving off, it was too late to stop us and the officers had rather fortunately bad aim, even Riaris Krine the ship’s gunner. Peppery Longfarthing, the sorcerous sailing-master, boiled some water in a hurry but couldn’t see us clearly enough to target through Stehlen’s darkening devilry.

The “mast” of our little boat was four of the oars lashed together and a “sail” rigged with it. It’s amazing what pressing need can accomplish, for we made good speed at first during our escape, allowing Owlbear and La’Luka only time for a few return shots. I’m sure Mr. Plugg wishes he had kept his bald head down.

If you have never tried to seriously navigate the open ocean in a longboat with a bedsheet for a sail and only two days’ water, just suffice to say that the fire is a good deal more dire a landing spot than the pan.

We made at first for the island we passed days ago, but then veered north because Stehlen was certain we were not far from land and it did not make sound tactical sense to escape to a barren atoll which the Wormwood still had fresh in memory. The pitiful excuse for a sail kept falling apart and we languished in dead waters for days while frantically trying to fill the sheet. We were exhausted and dying under the glare of the tropical sun on our dwindling rations of water. We spent a week limping north and the last three days were the worst. Just as we were certain of our doom, however, La’Luka’s trained hawk returned with a waterskin!

It had found land to our north! And that land had fresh water on it!

So it was that we dredged ourselves ashore to a beach of black sands in a cove formed by high cliffs on this island of forbidding paradise. While drifting to a landing, we passed the wreckage of what we would identify as a Cheliaxan slaving vessel called the Black Orchid. It was while Stehlen, Sava and I were exploring the wreck that Waku, La’Luka and Owlbear foraged and explored along the beach. They found the prints of a very large bird and an overwhelming sense of dread that sent them all scrambling back to the rally point on the beach near where a small stream empties into the sea.

The sounds of tropical life are a cacophony of arboreal calls, so when the jungle hushes — beware!

No one has seen the bird that made the prints, but it is certainly large, which begs the question of how a beast of such size can sustain itself in any reasonable population on a small island? Of course, we have no idea how large the island is. Our priorities had to be securing shelter and food. Stehlen and La’Luka are optimistic that they may be able to make enough repairs to the wreck of the Black Orchid that she should be seaworthy again… with perhaps a year or three of hard labor, given our resources with naught but an untamed jungle and the sea.

Our ancestors managed to craft a civilization with nothing more, so why not?

As the sun sets on our dark paradise, I look out over the lapping waves of the reef and marvel in wonder at the strange fortunes of life’s gasping, crawling, desperate reach for mere survival in a cruel and hostile cosmos.

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