“Sail Ho!” a booming baritone echoed from the cross trees, colourful birds squawked and startled from the verdant greenery, flying skyward in a raucous rainbow. Tension slacked on the lines as men turned to look seaward. The ship slumped sideways crushing the breaming fire in a shower of sparks that raised snarls and curses. Timbers groaned and rigging twanged as the ship settled back onto the golden sand of the beach. The smell of salt mingled with the waft of exotic flowers, unwashed bodies and burning green timber.
The Lobster was a sturdy ship, brig rigged and square bowed for heavy seas. She was a handy vessel, or at least she had been when she set sail from Mayene nearly six months ago. Now the sails were patched and masts splinted. A thick beard of seaweed clung to the hull, a small problem at first but by now a serious risk in high seas, and in these waters, the seas were always high. The solution was to drag the Lobster ashore and bream her, setting fires beneath the hull to burn away the weeds, it was a moment of vulnerability, both from the hostile natives and from the sea. Half the crew was dispersed in the jungle, clutching sabres and hoping that none of the insane natives took an interest. Of course that didn’t help when the foe came from the sea.
“Is it Seanchan?” A nervous ripple ran through the sunburned sailors. The appearance of the foreigners had become a terror for all deep water sailors. Their ships were large, powerful and worst of all used witches to destroy their foes from afar. A broad shouldered man, shirtless and sheened with sweat, pushed through the ruck of sailors, scowling like a thundercloud at the sea. He was heavily muscled and scared from a thousand battles from Altaran taverns to the Lakes of Malkier. He carried a heavy axe, rimmed with rust from long disuse, its leather wrapped handle shoved through a belt of broad leather.
“Calm your bloody tits,” Walden snarled, pausing to spit a plug onto tabac onto the sand before scrambling up one of the guide ropes and into the rigging, arm over powerful arm. Reaching the cross tree he squinted out to sea, following the look outs outstretched finger. The seas around the Isle of Madmen were unusually calm today, a pale blue rather than their normal storm tossed gray.
“It’s not the Seanchan,” he shouted down after a moment of observation. The sailors below relaxed even before he slid down the stay to the sand.
“The bugs don’t build em that fine across the prow, its a Sea Folk Raker or I’m Child of the Light.” The bosun, a one eyed man with thin greying hair turned to regard his captain with concern.
“The Sea Folk ain’t got no business here,” the old salt complained. The captain smiled, though there was no humour in the expression.
“Nobody has any bloody business here, we are a thousand leagues from any proper sea lane.” The Lobster had spent nearly four months feeling its way around the coast of the Isle of Madmen, painstakingly charting the treacherous reefs and shoals. So far as Walden knew the only maps that showed this cove were in the Lobsters cabin. No one should have known where they were. Except, apparently, someone did.
The Sea Folk boat ground ashore with a soft crunch of sand. A tall chocolate skinned man, bare chested and tattooed stepped onto the beach with a look of distaste. Coming ashore was a necessary evil to men who lived and died on the salt. His eyes took in the ragged but well armed sailors that greeted him.
“I have a message for Walden!” he called, brandishing a sodden looking scroll of what must have once been fine parchment. The axe wielding captain stepped forward and took the offered letter tearing it open. The Sea Folk boat was pulling away even before he managed to break the seal. For a long moment he peered at it before sighing with evident disgust.
“What does it say?” the bosun asked, glancing around in confusion.
“How the bloody hell should I know, but there is only one person who writes to me in words so big I can’t understand em.” Without further comment he turned and shouted up the beach.
“Get those fires out! We sail for the Fingers with the tide!”