A gyrfalcon with silver and brown plumage gripped the thick branch, turning its’ head as it watched two men argue back and forth.
“Petr, I tell you this in confidence. Derek is going to get us all killed. We’ve made more than enough gold & silver to keep us comfortable in our old age. This should be our last trip. The rest of the crew agree. They elected me to speak with ye and plead their case. I know you to be a fair man, Razor. All we be askin’ is that ye go to Derek with our concerns. We pert near wrecked the ship this time. What goods’ a purse o’ money ifn we’re dead?”
Petr was at least six years younger than his companion was. The second-in-command spit a hunk of chew on the sandy ground, his eyes flashing with irritation. “Damn your cowardly hide, Razor, for wanting me to carry the message to Derek. I’ll be lucky if he doesn’t order me hung. I’ll see him, but I will make certain he knows the request comes from the crew, not me.”
Razor relaxed. “Thank ye, I’ll tell the men. None of us have felt right since we first landed on this island. I’ve had horrible nightmares.”
“You’ll have worse after the Captain learns of the crews wishes. You’d best get to work and stay busy.” Petr warned Razor.
Aye, aye Sor.” He answered. Razor scampered away, leaving Petr to walk away, looking for the Captain.
Once both men were out of view, the gyrfalcon launched from the tree. It soared above the trees, using wind currents to save strength. With its superior vision, the raptor dove from the sky, rapidly pulling up in front of a long house. A female chestnut centaur stood next to a brown and white male centaur, both guarding the long house entrance.
Upon landing, the falcon immediately morphed to his secondary form: a young adult male with a light complexion. The man walked with a lightness of step which mimicked his raptor form, his medium brown hair highlighted with silver reflecting the afternoon sun. Both centaurs waved the birdman through without a challenge.
“Quelti, what news have you for us?” Holrf, the bay centaur, leader of the village asked.
“Good tidings, Holrf, and excellent news for the alliance to receive. I listened to the humans today. The male who is called Petr, argued with another man called Razor. The underlings designated Razor as a spokesman. He went to Petr to request the second in command ask their leader to leave Joslurek as soon as possible.” Quelti explained. “They will leave and not return.”
Chendrid stamped his hooves, “We should strike tonight, while the humans are still unsettled.”
“No, I say we try to speak with them. Perhaps we can bargain and find out where the younglings have been taken.” Mauri said.
A male with black hair and brown eyes broke in, “Mares, always wanting to talk instead of fighting. I agree with Chendrid; the time for talking has gone. I say we attack.”
Holrf put a comforting hand on his mate’s neck, patting her as if she were a regular horse. “Talk won’t do, that much is certain. I wonder how we can defeat the humans. What can we do against their weapons?” Holrf’s question set off a Greek Chorus of debate.
“My lords and ladies, please, we can’t argue among ourselves.” Averell said with a calm voice. “I have experience dealing with men whereas none of you do. I can guarantee two points: first, the pirates will not leave without another batch of slaves and second the Captain will return to Joslurek: with his current crew or with a new one. He is making too good of a profit with little effort not to do so.”
“Tell me, tell us, how to proceed, Averell, and I will follow. If that means sailing on Tealvia’s great waters, I will go.” Jerein yelled. “My life is yours until we get all of the stolen children back and our revenge for those killed.”
The other centaurs and shifters gave the same pledge.
Averell held his right hand up for silence. “Cedryth and I will approach the men tomorrow, with a handful of ‘prisoners’. I will tell the men our ship was broken apart in a storm four years ago. The beast men captured us and kept us as slaves. Cedryth and I managed to break out bonds and take a few hostages as payment for our time as slaves. That should earn us a berth on the ship. As we get close to the main land, we shall free you and overcome the crew. Cedryth & I will make certain you receive proper food and water. I shall try and protect you and your fellow captures as best as I can.”
A horse shifter stepped forward, “I say we kill all but one or two and take the ship as our own. Why keep the pirates alive?”
“Risolle, do you know how to sail a ship? How well can you steer a ship’s wheel, Sallet? Irex, can you navigate by the stars on the water? ” Averell asked. The knight pointed to the crowd of residents standing or sitting through-out the longhouse. “Tell me if I’m wrong. If anyone here has the abilities to man that vessel, tell me now.” Averell gave those in the room an opportunity to speak. “I didn’t think so. We need those men to handle the ship. Even if I could impart the knowledge of sailing a ship, we still don’t know where your children were taken.”
Holrf twitched his ears, his tail switching back and forth with frustration. “Sir Averell makes a good point. We will follow his lead. Those who were selected by their leaders shall meet here before the sun rises in the morning. The birds will fly during the day and roost at night, centaurs shall allow themselves to be captured this evening. Get some rest, eat a good meal, and say your fair wells to family & friends.”
Cedryth and Averell poked and prodded a group consisting of four females and five males tied together by ropes. The knight and his squire looked haggard and lean, supposed from two years of abuse. The captives appeared to be from 10 to 16 years old, all enhanced by Averell’s magical abilities.
Pushing their way through the thick vegetation, the men and the phony captives avoided stepping on scattered flotsam & jetsam on the sandy beach. It didn’t take long for a pirate look-out to take notice of the approaching strangers.
“Stop, who are you?” asked a black-haired man missing his left eye. He brandished a short sword, pointing it at Cedryth. “I asked you a question!”
“I’m Abnar, and that’s my older brother, Julian. We were shipwrecked here and held by the beast men.”
The pirate guard gave Cedryth and Averell a skeptical once-over. “We ain’t never seen another real man here before, nor heard of any men on this land.”
“You heard my brother, Abnar. We were held captive, worked as slaves. We’ve heard stories about the beast men’s children taken. Abnar and I swore we’d get free and take our revenge by stealing some of theirs and selling ‘em as slaves. We want off this nightmare of an island. When we heard there was a ship here, we took advantage of our master, killed him and crept away at night. We managed to leave with some of their valuables, too.”
One-eye scratched his chin. “Hmm, c’mon then, I guess I had best let Captain Derek decide on what to do with those captives.”
Derek scrutinized Julian’s face as he told the pirate Captain how he and his brother, Abnar, were the sole survivors of a shipwreck. Julian’s longing for home was heartfelt. As best as Derek could gather, the brothers were telling the truth. If not, why would they have brought nine beast men children with them to sell as slaves?
“The horror is over, Julian. You and Abnar are welcome to accompany us to Hujishu, where we sell any captives as slaves. Hujishu gives us the best prices, especially for exotics like these beast men, and I specialize in slaves so I know what to look for. I treat my captives well, so I get premium prices. The nine are yours, so I will only take 25% of the total price; the auction house takes 10%. Abnar and you will still make a solid pile of gold off those younglings. If you help out onboard ship during the journey, I’ll either reduce my cut of yours 2% or give you each 1% of my slaves total, your choice. As you can see, I’m not greedy.”
Averell smiled. “Captain Derek, you are a kind man, and very generous. My brother and I will keep the extra percentage on our stock, if you don’t mind, but we are certainly willing to help in any capacity we can.”
Derek stood up. “Excellent; Petr, add these two to your duty roster and sleeping rotations. We should be ready to leave with the tide in the morning.”
All hands were out to man the oars the next morning. Averell and Cedryth were assigned spots next to experienced crewmen, who yelled out instructions over the drums.
“Row to the drum beat, mimic what I do” an older man with half of his teeth missing told Averell. “It will be hard at first, and your muscles will scream for the pain, but don’t stop until the drum does.”
Averell nodded his thanks. His row-mate wasn’t kidding. A couple of candle marks later, Averell was ready to drop from exhaustion, his legs and arms felt like looser than a stream of water. When Petr ordered the oars up it took every last bit of strength Averell had to help haul up the long wooden oar and secure it on the deck. Petr gave permission for the oarsmen to return to regular duty.
By the end of the day, the squire and his knight master were worn out. That night, Averell worked his silent magic, curing Cedryth and his aches. After the pirate ate and bedded down, Averell waited until the crew on sleep detail was snoring soundly. Creeping quietly towards the line of captives, the knight put his finger to his lips to warn the Joslurekens to remain silent.
Holrf twisted his short neck trying to relieve a kink, uncomfortable in his new form. I hate two legs! How do humans stand this limited vision of theirs? Two bodies down, Chendrid didn’t appear to be any happier.
“Holrf, once we are at sea, we will institute our plan. The crew will disappear one by one over the course of the voyage. The wolves and dogs will handle the kills and I’ll get rid of the bodies. We need to leave enough crew alive to get us in to port at Hujishu.”
“Is there any means of speeding the ship’s journey? The conditions down here are deplorable.” Holrf gave a disgusted glance towards the brown flesh of his legs. “I miss my true self.”
“I am sorry for that. Believe me; you are better off in a human form instead of your natural centaur while at sea. I doubt you, or your friends would wish to spend the time nursing a broken leg. When I get back to my bunk, I will be casting the spells we talked about; remember to act weak. Pass it on to the rest of your companions.”
“I will.” Holrf replied.
Averell set spells on the captives to ease their journey: food and water was enhanced to give life-saving strength. An illusion was created for each male and female shifter, making their condition appear four-times worse than they truly were. Before he was finished, Averell cast one final spell: a healing aid. Confident the shifters would be ready when he called on them to take care of the pirate crew, Averell disappeared back into the darkness of the ship’s hold.
“I am sorry we ever saw that cursed island. No more excursions to Joslurek. We forget that cursed land exists.” Derek said to Petr, “We only have ten men left. Ten! We sell this load and split the profits. I’m done with ships and trading.”
Averell eavesdropped as he scrubbed the deck. I pray he spreads the word about Joslurek. Sailors are among the most superstitious men I’ve ever met. Derek was furious. His men had disappeared one-by-o under mysterious circumstances during the voyage to the Land of a Thousand Pearls.
Less than a week out of the port city of Hujishu, Averell knew the time had come to make his final move. Once nightfall came, Averell worked his magic on the Captain and remaining crew. As soon as they were under his control, he would release the captive people of Joslurek.
“Cedryth.” Averell called to his squire, “Wake up.”
“I’m not asleep. What do you want?”
“Go free all of the prisoners. I’m going to speak to pirate captain. Have Jerein and Holrf meet me on the deck.” The squire rolled off his bunk to handle his duties.
In the Captain’s quarters, Averell faced Derek. “Where did you take the beast children? How can we found out who purchased each one?”
Derek’s will was strong. He struggled against the enchantment, multiple beads of sweat running down his face. It was no use. The spell locked in place. Derek relaxed. “We sold the captives through Je-Lin’s Auction House. Je-Lin keeps records on sales.”
“I say we kill the bastards now.” Jerein the wolf shifter growled.
“No, we’re not docked at the harbor yet.” Holrf rebuked Jerein. “Once we arrive at Hujishu, we shall sell the captain and crew. Let them know the life of a slave as punishment.”
“Holrf is correct,” Averell said, “the silver and gold raised by the sale of the pirates will fund our search for the children. Cedryth, make certain the pirates are bound tightly.”
“I’ve checked the ropes twice, milord.” Cedryth answered. “None of the swine shall escape justice.”
The centaurs Holrf, Chendrid, Berliss, Liren, Flier, Amber, Riane, Skylen, and Trasey stood as a group, ready to disembark. Three dogs, Derris, Farl, and Narrie waited with the wolves Jerein, Toumel and Verla. Sallet and Quelti, the falcon shifters stood up on the highest part of the ship, a raptor-trait, keeping watch. The horse shifters Irex, Faine, and Risolle stood close to the centaurs, waiting for instructions.
Averell gazed at the gathered people of Joslurek. The males and females watched him quietly. Averell walked the length of the shifters and centaurs, stopping in the middle, “My friends, we stand ready. Soon each of you will take your first step on a foreign soil. At the rise of the morning sun, we start upon our true journey. We won’t end our travels until every one of your children are back in your hands. None of us know what difficulties wait ahead of us. It is possible some of us will not live to fulfill our vows to bring your young ones home. I, and my companion Cedryth, have sworn to do all that we can to help you. May Jenslu strike me down should I be forsworn in my oath.” Averell pulled out his sword from its scabbard, holding it high above his head as he shouted, “I promise you vengeance!”
End of part 2