In the fading light, Tossmek adjusted the sail, trying to slow their speed. She had no desire to encounter the pirates again.Â She walked out to the prow of the barge, trying to see around the next bend in the river, but to no avail. The river turned too sharply.Â With the light fast fading she decided to anchor for the night. She pulled the sail closed and turned her gaze to the nearby beach for a suitable landing site. A small grove of trees and many bushes grew around the beach, making their current spot as good as any.
She picked a stretch of sand near a small growth of shrubs. With a simple gesture towards the area, Pahwon began easing the tiller towards the landing site allowing Tossmek to give some thought to their next move. As the boat came to a shuddering halt, Pahwon seemed to know what he was going to do next and hopped down off the ship. Wondering what he was thinking, Tossmek rose up and walked over to the port gunwale.
â€œWhat are you doing?â€
â€œIâ€™m going to see whatâ€™s around the bend,â€ he replied, pointing at the small grove of trees. â€œWe canâ€™t do anything until we know that much.â€
â€œRight.Â Well, Iâ€™m coming too, then,â€ Tossmek said, turning to the supply stash. â€œLet me get a few things.â€
As she busied herself in the cabinet, Pahwon thought for a few moments about their predicament before getting back onboard the barge and retrieving the saber from the pirateâ€™s belt. He examined the blade, dragging a finger across its edge before carefully slipping the implement into his belt. He returned his gaze to Tossmek who had retrieved a tarnished spyglass and her crossbow. For a moment she hesitated, feeling the weight of the weapon and what it meant. Then she slung the thing over her shoulder and grabbed a few arrows.
Sufficiently armed, or so she hoped, Tossmek hopped down from her barge to the sand below. She turned around immediately and grabbed hold of the craft, Pahwon quickly joining her, and they pulled it as far as they could onto the shore. Fairly confident that the boat wouldnâ€™t wash away for at least a little while, the two made their way up the small incline and through the thick foliage. After bashing a path through the thicket, the two found the other end of the curve, the pirateâ€™s large ship appearing not far enough in the distance.
They cautiously maneuvered through the bushes, trying to find the best vantage point. A short tree seemed suitable, the downward hanging branches providing what they hoped was adequate concealment. Tossmek pulled out her spyglass and zoomed in on the pirateâ€™s ship, leaning against the tree to steady her arm. It became apparent the ship had stopped, sails furled and most of the crew performing maintenance. She looked from stem to stern, catching a glimpse of the pirate Admiral, but was unable to see their friends anywhere.
â€œHum, the ship seems to have stopped, possibly for the night,â€ she said slowly. â€œAnd I donâ€™t see anyone friendly on the deck.â€
â€œThey might have been taken below,â€ Pahwon said, â€œcan you see any avenue of approach; some way we might get close to that thing?â€
â€œNot really, no,â€ she replied, scanning the barren tract of sand. â€œWell, maybe one way.â€
With that, Tossmek closed the spyglass and began pushing her way through the shrubbery. Pahwon remained where he was for a moment, puzzled.
â€œWhat, what do you mean?â€ Pahwon asked. â€œUh, Tossmek?â€
Pahwon scrambled after her, nearly stumbling on his bad leg. He pushed through the foliage, catching her as she reached the edge of the beach.
â€œUhm, Tossmek, what are you, I mean, what did you mean?â€ he asked quickly, putting his hand on her shoulder.
â€œIâ€™ve got an idea,â€ she replied slowly, stopping where a she stood. â€œI think if I wait until nightfall, I can swim to the pirateâ€™s ship and peek in through the gun ports. Then weâ€™ll know-.â€
â€œBut thatâ€™s crazy!â€ Pahwon exclaimed, â€œyou might get caught and kill-, uh, hurt or, or captured.â€
â€œI know that,â€ she retorted, spinning around, â€œBut I need to know, need to find out if they have captured Hiwei.â€
For a moment, they stood still, not knowing what to do next. After a heavy sigh, Pahwon pulled his hand back and nodded, hoping Tossmek knew what she was doing. The two returned to the beached Tub, deciding it was a good time to eat. Pahwon walked over to the trees and began gathering some firewood. He returned holding several good sized logs and some kindling.
â€œSorry, I donâ€™t want to attract any attention by setting a fire,â€ Tossmek informed him, â€œWeâ€™re going to have cold meal.â€
â€œYeah, that makes sense,â€ he said, dropping the sticks onto the ground.
She pulled out the rest of the fruit preserves. The two ate quietly, waiting for the sun to set. As darkness fell, Tossmek cautiously lit a small oil lamp, hoping it would provide enough illumination to guide her back from her mission. She set the lamp on the bow of her ship before turning to Pahwon.
â€œUm, Pahwon, could you do something for me?â€
â€œYes, I could,â€ he replied softly. â€œWhat did you have in mind?â€
â€œJust check and see if the ship is still there,â€ She answered nervously. â€œI mean, thereâ€™s no point in my swimming out that way, and all, if it isnâ€™t even there, right?â€
â€œNo, not really,â€ Pahwon said, heading towards the small overlook. â€œIâ€™ll be back before you know it.â€
â€œYeah, before I know it,â€ she repeated, trying to act calm.
It became immediately obvious to Pahwon that pushing through the prickly plants and over the protruding roots in the dark would be harder than he had anticipated. After stumbling several times and tearing his shirt on a branch, Pahwon emerged out of the overgrowth and was able to see up the river. To his dismay, the ship was still anchored where it had been earlier. The vessel was well illuminated; the long beams of light seemed to pierce the surroundings and caused him to back up instinctively.
For a moment he wondered what he ought to do. Simply telling Tossmek the ship had gone came to mind, but he knew she might check herself and would be quite incensed at the lie. After a minute of hesitation, Pahwon finally did the only thing he could do and headed back to tell her what he had seen. During the short walk back, he thought of things he could do while she was away, such as prepping the ship for a speedy getaway just in case, or taking her crossbow to the overlook and covering her if she got into trouble.
As Pahwon emerged onto the beach, he decided against doing anything that might unnerve Tossmek any further. He saw her standing at the riverâ€™s edge, illuminated by the flickering lamplight. She was now dressed only in her storm cloak, which meant she really intended to go through with it. At the sound of his approach Tossmek turned to face him unable to conceal her nervousness.
â€œThe ship is still there,â€ Tossmek said nervously before Pahwon could speak.
â€œItâ€™s still there,â€ he confirmed, reaching under his shirt. â€œUh, listen, I think maybe you could use this.â€
Pahwon pulled the small statuette from around his neck and offered her the small token.
â€œUh, why, thank you Pahwon,â€ she said, surprised. â€œThank you, really.â€
She gave a weak smile slid it around her neck. Then she turned and gave a final nod to Pahwon before sliding off her cloak and wading into the water. The cool water calmed her slightly, the gentle current washing away at the dust and dirt clinging to her. Once she had reached waist deep water, Tossmek took a deep breath and plunged under the surface.
She swam out into the river, the current tugging her downstream. After swimming out far enough to see around the river bend, Tossmek turned into the current and began pulling herself towards the ship. After a few minutes she had cleared the small peninsula and was now within sight of the piratesâ€™ ship. For moment she considered how best to approach the vessel. Fatigued from fighting the current, she decided to carefully swim past it and then float back with the current.
Summoning all her strength, Tossmek swam past the ship and up the river, gradually moving into the boatâ€™s path. Then, tired from the exertion, she slowed and allowed the current to carry her back down the river. As the ship drew ever closer, Tossmek took shorter and shorter strokes, trying to make as little noise as possible. When she drew close enough to make out sailors prowling the deck, a sense of dread filled her. She floated up to and past the prow of the ship, holding her breath.
For a moment, she considered just floating back down the river. Then, with all her courage, she reached out her arm and took hold of a line dangling from the deck. She held fast for a few moments, looking up. Then she pulled herself up the rope as far as she dared, finally putting one eye to a gun port. Unable to make anything out, Tossmek took a deep breath and pulled herself up one more inch to take a proper look into the boat.
The smell that emanated from this deck nearly made her cough, the stench overpowering all else for a brief moment. Once that unpleasant sensation had subsided, she took a look around the squalid interior. From the look of things there wasnâ€™t any room for prisoners in the cramped space. Slightly relieved, she took one last look. She was now convinced that Hiwei and Sapphire had escaped. She blinked, remembering there had been a third person that had joined them, but couldnâ€™t recall his name. Tossmek thought for a moment, starting to slide down the rope.
A cry rang out on deck, causing her heart to stop. Frantically, Tossmek checked all directions, but couldnâ€™t see anyone. Above her a great movement began, things and men moving around for some unknown reason. Voices called in a foreign language and Tossmek decided that it would be a very good time to leave. Then the rope tugged slightly, pulling her up a bit. She released the line, terrified that the person tugging was trying to reel her in. After hitting the water, she allowed herself to sink down before swimming with the current away from the ship.
Tossmek swam until her arms burned, trying to stay under as long as she could. Finally she relented, bobbing up to the surface and taking a gulp of air. Once on the surface she turned and looked towards the ship, surprised at how far she had gone. As the current pulled her downstream, it dawned on her that the ship was moving. Tired from the swim, she leaned back and let the current pull her, watching the ship sail further and further away.
Once past the peninsula Tossmek spotted the Tub and swam ashore. Pahwon, who was seated on the prow of the Tub next to the lamp, spotted her as she rose out of the water. Immediately he jumped down and rushed over to her with a drying cloth. She gladly accepted took it and began drying herself off.
â€œI guess Innana brought you some luck,â€ Pahwon said quietly. â€œGlad youâ€™re back safe.â€
â€œYeah, me too,â€ Tossmek replied weakly, tired from the swim. â€œI didnâ€™t see our friends, so thatâ€™s good at least.â€
â€œWell, itâ€™s good to know that,â€ he said, breathing a sigh of relief. â€œSo now what?â€
â€œNow I go to bed,â€ Tossmek replied yawning, climbing back onto her boat.
She pulled the small charm off her neck and placed it on top of her cabin. After Pahewon had picked it up she pulled the curtain open and sat down on her small cot. From her shelf she took a comb and began running it through her wet hair, thinking over the dayâ€™s events. On the deck Pahwon took to pacing back and forth, tapping his leg every few steps.Â Tossmek yawned before reaching over and pulling a thin blanket over herself. For a few moments she watched him going back and forth, starting to wonder when he would settle down.
â€œOh, right, I donâ€™t actually have any other bedding.â€
â€œThatâ€™s ok; Iâ€™ll find someplace to sleep.â€
â€œAh, ok,â€ she replied, reaching for the curtain.
â€œGood night Tossmek, sleep well.â€
â€œYou too, Pahwon.â€
Tossmek pulled the curtain closed, leaving Pahwon alone on deck. He walked back to his perch, picking up the bit of wood he had been carving. Settling back in. he took his knife back up and continued etching into the smoothed surface. He worked on the piece for a time, slowly tiring from the effort. When the oil lamp burned out, Pahwon placed the knife and carving away for the evening.
Looking around for something to sleep on, he spotted the sacks they had filled with rocks. He emptied two into the river and stuffed them with the straw and leaves he had planned to use for kindling. Yawning heavily, Pahwon fell onto makeshift bedding, gazing up at the stars. With his hat as a pillow and the warm night air as a blanket he soon drifted to sleep.
Too soon the dawn came and Pahwon awoke from his slumber. He quickly got to his feet and began pacing around the small deck, pleased that his leg could now take his full weight. Feeling good and knowing the pirates were miles away, he pulled out a small stove from the supply cabinet and started cooking some of the preserved meat. The smell awoke Tossmek from her sleep. Feeling quite hungry, she quickly pulled a shirt over herself and wrapped a skirt around her waist, fastening the belt as she emerged into the morning light.
â€œWhat are you cooking?â€ she asked sweetly, hugging him from behind, â€œOh, good choice.â€
â€œThanks, I figured it would be safe to have a hot meal,â€ Pahwon explained.
â€œWhat beautiful sunrise,â€ she commented, stepping aside to get a better look at the colorful clouds.
â€œI hope youâ€™re watching this too, Hiwei,â€ Pahwon whispered to himself, grasping his good luck charm. â€œPlease, Innana, bring her, and Sapphire, andâ€¦the other man, too, bring them your luck as well.â€