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Grey Falcon Chap 3 - Part 2

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Old 07-11-2013, 01:20 PM
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Default Grey Falcon Chap 3 - Part 2

This is the second part of Dark Waters this being the third chapter of the Grey Falcon.

Sitting in the quiet of his cabin, after the rush and heat of the meeting had begun to subside, Ash looked back and could say that he enjoyed the confrontation, in a dark sort of way, knowing what he knew and watching to find how much they knew. However, he had serious misgivings on the situation, for until then he had not broken any of their laws, but he was about to. It was the uncertainty and guilt of knowing the enormity of what lay ahead that sent a sudden chill shivering through him. At that moment, Jarron entered the cabin.
“I’ve made a decision,” said Ash “We must go out on the midnight tide.”
“Thought it would come to that,” said Jarron. “Saw you eyeing that no chin lurking on the deck.”
“Yes, detestable little man.”
“I take it he’s the one that owns most of these ships and the one that paid off Grebek so we wouldn’t have a pilot? Can’t say I’m disappointed to see Grebek go.”
“What’s done is done.” said Ash. “Now to the job in hand; the estuary is fairly straight, so we shall leave with the wind in our faces and steer with the flag pointing astern. It’ll give a rough bearing as to our direction, otherwise we’ll be running blind in the night. Let’s get
everyone ready.”
“All is being prepared and we’ll be ready to move on your word,” said Jarron.
“Good; the current’ll determine when we go. I don’t want to lose this one chance and miss the tide.”
For a while, Ash went up on the deck and leant upon the rail. The cry of the gulls had deserted the skies, and all that was left were listless wavelets rhythmically washing the hull and a gentle rush of the breeze in his ears. Twilight was settling fast upon the water. Red lit the lanterns and set them at each side of the ship high up on the spar. The sky was losing its hold on the light; grey clouds hastened the approach of darkness, and the landscape merged into a shadowy mass. One by one, tiny specks of light appeared along the length of the waterfront and glinted on the surface of the water. Ash walked down the steps to his cabin. There was little left to do but wait.
The midnight hour had slipped past, when Jarron entered the cabin to wake Ash – not that he was asleep, having spent a few hours contemplating the wooden beams above him, and failing to stop his mind from racing. What was normal and routine had been swept aside and the door to the unexpected lay open wide. The endless waiting was testing his patience and his nerves tingled with anticipation. From a jug, he poured water into a basin and splashed his face to clear his head, then, stretching out of the window, dropped the storm shutters to keep thelight from escaping and made his way on deck.
“She’s risen to just over two knots,” Jarron’s voice whispered. Ash nodded and leisurely gazed about as if it was just another ordinary night where there were no uncertainties and all was right with the world. Slow moving shadows criss-crossed the deck, cast by the light from the two lanterns at either end of the spar as they swayed in time against the motion of the ship. The restless lapping water had turned to a wash as it flowed past her hull to the sea, and the occasional creak of timber were the only sounds: otherwise, there was an expectant feel to the air.
The new moon was two nights old and for the most part remained safely hidden behind slow moving clouds, but out there in the night across the dark waters, the lights of the other ships and the city and those along the harbour flickered and twinkled as if the stars had come to earth. It was dark out there, but not as dark as Ash had hoped. He could make out a few of the other craft as vague, dark forms and there was a pallid light to the tips of the waves and he wondered how many other interested eyes were out there watching, searching the darkness.
Red had just taken the watch from Tinker, although this was a waste as everyone was on deck and wide awake, either standing, or sitting, lounging or whittling, or simply staring vacantly into nothingness. Each inwardly focused on their own thoughts, quiet and still as in sleep, waiting like hungry children for the call to say that their meal was soon to be served.
“We expecting another one of those surprise visits?” Red asked, his sudden tone bringing Ash back.
“Who can say what schemes they have swimming around in their heads or what little games they’re playing? Our time here is up and we’re leaving. The odd part is that we’re leaving at the dead of night when others wouldn’t dare take that risk.”
“Like thieves in the night?” Red grumbled.
“Not quite; it’s more like running from thieves of the morning,” said Ash. “I would rather lose her by our own hands than have her stolen away from under us.” He paused as if listening. “Do you feel her? She knows – she wants to be away.”
“Aye, her timbers fidget and she strains against her anchors.”
Then from the head came a splash. “Turn!” wheezed Cookie, and let the line slip through his fingers as he counted.
“Done!” replied Jarron. The crew looked up. Jarron had turned the glass and moments later his voice whispered faintly on the breeze as he told Tinker to go aft and take the tiller.
“Stop!” Jarron said to Cookie.
Cookie counted. “One … two … two and a quarter knots,” he replied. Ash felt their eyes on him. The scales were tipping and he was not oing to wait another moment. “Listen up!” he said, and paused. “Now, we go dark. Extinguish the lights; take down the lamps. Untie the sails, but leave them down.” They all moved as one, setting themselves quickly
to their tasks. He did not have to say another word; the ship’s heart was alive again, its beat growing with every passing moment.
“Go quietly, lads. Not a word, not a sound from you now,” whispered Jarron.
“Weigh anchors,” Ash whispered, and hoped they would not foul. They didn’t, but the wet cables squealed quietly to themselves as they strained and fretted against the woodwork.
“Look lively,” said Jarron, “keep a sharp lookout ahead.”
“You have the leading line,” Ash said to Jarron.
“Tinker, make for the main channel and endeavour to miss the ship ahead,” said Jarron. Tinker grimaced and squinted into the darkness.
The ebb tide was running and a swell had risen against the stern. A faint shudder ran through the deck as though it was being pushed slowly forward from under them. They were moving, imperceptibly, but they were underway. Tinker pushed his straw hat down tighter to his head and leant his weight to the tiller. As the prow arced lazily to starboard,
Ash could feel his balance shifting to compensate.
Jarron tapped Red on the shoulder. “To the head, and keep your eyes wide,” he said, and then turned to Tinker. “The stern’s dragging.”
“Who’s steering here?” replied Tinker.
“Just straighten her …” and pointed.
“I am – You’re fussing.”
“Hmm,” Jarron grunted and casually edged a few steps away. “When we’re clear of the ships, keep her in line with her flag.”
“Keep her in line,” Tinker grumbled. “This is madness running in the dark with a moon that’s so stingy with its light as to be not worth havin’.”
“It’s a new moon, a new start,” said Jarron.
“New moon?” said Tinker. “The only new thing is the direction we’re taking, and it’s taking us further away from home.”
They were approaching the ship ahead at what seemed a steady walking pace, and as their bow passed its stern, Ash was sure the gap measured no more than ten generous paces between them. The other ship was sitting low in the water, filled with cargo and waiting for its opportunity to depart, which by his reckoning would be a fair while yet. ‘This was,’ Ash thought, ‘time to hold your breath and hope they don’t see us.’ From the other ship, their starboard oil lamp radiated a soft, yellow, flickering circle of light that spilled out over the water, exposing part of the Grey Falcon’s port side as they drew abreast of her.
They could make out individual voices drifting across the void between them, but not what they were saying; only the changing intonation of their laughter and light hearted banter from one man to the other. Then they saw them, lounging at ease close about the main mast, lost in their game: a minute sketch, a snippet of life on a lamp-lit arena. Three of the Grey Falcon’s crew, leaning on the rail, watched them from the safety and seclusion of the darkness with a strange fascination of knowing there was more going on in the night than the game the crew played. Watching as they slowly drifted by, separated like gods upon a moving cloud, capturing a fleeting glimpse of lives upon another stage, other lives on a different course, a different destiny, unaware of their transient audience.
As the ships parted company, Jarron nudged Ash and pointed. There, leaning over the stern, was the shadowy silhouette of a man gazing idly down into the water.
“Is that Grebek?” asked Ash.
“Looks very much like him,” said Jarron.
Gebec had not seen them at first. Then he looked up, stared and squinted in disbelief. They instinctively knew what he was saying as he called to his new companions. Suddenly aroused, they rushed to join him as he pointed wildly in the direction of the Grey Falcon, but her tail had slipped into the gloom and Jarron could just make out their gestures that announced in no uncertain terms that he must have been dreaming, and Ash breathed a sigh of relief.
“Why is Cookie waving to them?” Ash asked, and shook his head.
“I suppose out of a crew of six there has to be one that plays the fool.”
“I think it’s the relief of finally being underway,” said Jarron. “Or perhaps it’s more of a gesture of defiance. Besides, like the rest of us he held no great affection for Grebek.”
“You don’t have to make excuses for him. I don’t mind the fun, only he has a strange sense of timing.”
They turned back to the matter in hand, watching and listening intently, but the interminable anxiety of going astray and running aground was maddening. When the eyes grow accustomed to the darkness, it is amazing the extent to which one can see. Out there, beyond the safe confines of the ship, was a dangerous and deceptive seascape that they must quickly become familiar with. The world had lost its colour as shades of grey faded to blacks, merging and dissolving, with no sharpness to focus the eye, and distances impossible to judge. Their hearing was heightened, causing doubt to creep into the inexperienced ear, and the Grey Falcon would need as many eyes and ears as she could muster. Ash joined them in their watch. The lights of Kara Tau were diminishing slowly, coalescing astern to a single pale glow. Time moved on and the hourglass turned. Red came back to take the tiller, tripped and cursed.
“I think we’re far enough away to show a little light on the deck,” said Ash. Jarron stepped up, took a taper and opened the sensor. Placing the taper in the grey embers, he blew until they glowed and the taper lit. He lit a lamp and hung it on a hook, but as he was about to blow out the taper, his eye caught an unexpected glint reflecting up from the deck. A wet footprint had captured the outline of the ball and toes of somebody running. He moved his head from side to side to trace their direction and then followed as they moved toward the hatch. Rolling back the edge of its cover, he reached in, lit another lamp and descended cautiously into the hold, one step at a time. He raised the lamp high; shadows flickered and moved in time with the flame upon the walls of the empty hold. Then he caught sight of a wet bundle curled up in a coil of rope.
“Come out!” he called. “Show yourself.”
A round face streaked with wet bedraggled hair stared out at him.
“Is there a problem?” said Ash, peering in through the open hatch.
“I believe a little mouse has stowed away,” said Jarron.
Ash followed him down the steps. “Is that so?” he said, crouching to get a closer look at the urchin. “Did you swim all the way out to the ship?”
“No …” shivered Mouse, and made a grab for his wet shoes on the floor beside him. “Clung to Gabri’s boat when they came a callin’. Swam to the anchor rope and waited till they’d left, then climbed.”
“Mmm,” mused Ash.
“Should I drop him back over the side?” said Jarron with a grin. “It’s still not too far to swim ashore.”
“We’ve no time for this distraction now. Take him to Cookie …” The boy shrank back against the coils and Ash smiled. “We’re not going to eat you, boy – just get you into some drier clothes. Now shall we get back up on deck? Otherwise we could all be swimming for the shore.”

* * * * *

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