Harald's Story

A Hasty Launch

Captain Soren stopped pacing the deck of his ship as he spotted the group down on the docks. He muttered as he watched the strange trio as they said their goodbyes to Father Delling. He spit as the old monk performed a short blessing over his pupil before turning and walking away. A fat lot of good that blessing will do today, the captain thought as he fumed.

He approached the gangplank as the would-be passengers stepped from it onto the ship. "You're just in time, my friends. Unfortunately, that means your just in time for me to tell you to go home."

Harald blinked in surprise as he almost stammered, "Captain, I thought we had already negotiated passage on this ship. Surely you don't mean to go back on your word now."

Soren shook his head and waved at the seaward horizon. "Of course not! Your passages is assured, and I will keep my word. But if you haven't noticed the dark clouds over yonder, I'd suggest you pay better attention. Setting sail today would almost certainly be suicide."

Jens gazed in the direction the captain indicated a moment before speaking. "I see what you mean, Captain. I don't claim to be an expert on these matters, but I've studied the weather since I came to the monastery. There's actually a series of storms coming in, isn't there?"

"Indeed there is, young monk. And any one of them could capsize a vessel like this one. Even my experienced crew wouldn't dare test their fortune with such tempests."

"This is unfortunate," Harald said. "I had hoped to be off today."

"As did I, Erikson. After all, this delay is liable to cost me passengers. And then there or those sending cargo with me that will likely demand some sort of discount due to late delivery. This means trouble for my finances."

Soren started when the girl, dressed in many furs, spoke with quiet assurance. "Then perhaps it is time to see if I can earn my keep." With that, she pressed past the captain towards the bow of the ship. As she moved, she looked towards the sky and muttered to herself.

"What do you think you're doing, girl?" the captain said as he reached for her. Harald grabbed his arm to restrain him, however.

"Captain, I would leave her be, if I were you. I have seen this girl's mistress at work personally. If this girl managed to learn even a fraction of what the old woman had to teach her, you would be wise to give her a try." Soren nodded and the two men followed Berit at a safe distance. The captain notice that the monk hung back, both worry and disdain evident in his expression.

Once the girl reached the frontmost rail of the ship, she paused and stared at some point. Soren could not determine what she could be looking at. He watched in wonder a moment later as she pulled a small piece of charcoal from a pouch and began to make marks on the wood in front of her.

After a moment, Berit lowered her gaze and motioned for Soren to join her. He approached her. As he got close enough to examine the markings she made, he gasped. She glance at him sideways. "I take it that you understand them?"

"I do. It's a navigational heading. But how-"

"Captain, if you wish to set sail today, we don't have time for questions. We must leave in the next five minutes if we have any hope of success with this proposal. Tell your men to set sail and immediately set course as I've indicated here. If we work hard, we will manage to sail through a small space between the second and third storms. It will be a rough ride, but your men should be able to manage to bring us through without any loss of life or serious damage to the ship."

Soren thought for a split instant then called to a man near the helm. "Trygg! Tell the men to prepare for launch. We set sail now!"

The man approached, frowning. "Captain, are you mad? Begging your pardon, but I don't wish to die today."

Soren glared at Trygg. "You're a valuable first mate, my friend. But until I'm dead or retired, I'm still your captain. You will do as I say."

"Very well, Captain. Though I hope I don't live to regret this day."

"Either way, I doubt you will," Soren muttered. "Once we're able to do so, set us upon the heading indicated here." He pointed again to Berit's markings. His first mate glanced at them, and Soren smirked as he noticed his man's eyes widen.

"Yes Sir!" Trygg said, quickly recovering. Then he bellowed. "Okay, lads! The captain has given an order. We set sail immediately! To your posts and be quick about it."

The captain rejoined Harald's trio, noting that Jens had decided that he no longer needed to keep his distance. He spoke to Berit, "Well, lass, I'm not sure whether you've doomed us or started us towards good fortune. If it's the latter, you have already proven your worth on this voyage. If it's the former, well, I guess it won't much matter, then."

"We will be fine, Captain. I have faith in your men." Soren's brow wrinkled in thought. Was that bemusement he saw in the witch's eyes?

"At any rate, the three of you had best get below decks where you will hopefully remain dry and out of the way." He cut off Berit as he saw her about to object. "If you wish to get soaked, that's fine by me. But be sure to stay out of the way of my men. As you said, this journey is still likely to be rocky, and my men don't need to add to their troubles by tripping over you."

"Very well, Captain," Berit said and scuttled away. Soren nodded distractedly as the two men took their leave and headed for the galley. He stood their a moment before speaking to the figure he felt standing behind him. "Speak your mind, Trygg."

"Captain, the heading the girl scribbled down. Was it my imagination, or did she write it in Zealand's code?"

"That wasn't your imagination, man. Or if it was, I'm hallucinating too."

"I thought that he only taught that code to the two of us, Captain."

"To the best of my knowledge, that's true. I certainly doubt he would've taught it to that young girl. Considering we lost him overboard five years ago, I reckon she would've been barely out of diapers when he'd have had the opportunity anyway."

"Is it possible that someone else came up with the same or a similar code?"

"You're better with the book learning than I am, Trygg. You tell me." Soren watched as his first mate pondered the question for a moment.

"I don't think so, Captain. After all, she used the correct cross-check. Even if someone else used all the same symbols for their own code, it's doubtful they would've done that the same."

"That would be my guess as well. So unless the girl has seen that specific heading written somewhere..."

"And given that we have all of Zealand's old maps under lock and key, that's not likely."

Soren nodded. "Agreed. You know, I was skeptical of the girl's claims, as I am of most self-styled witches. I've seen too many fakes. But seeing her write a heading in a code she couldn't possibly no has me wondering if we're dealing with the real thing."

"If that's true, Captain, I admit that I'm a bit frightened."

"Then you're a better man than me, Trygg. I think that possibility may well terrify me."