They heard a huge, discordant roaring, the crash of buildings being demolished, the rending of timbers, screams and alarums.
"What's happening now?" said Togura.
"If you're so honey-sniffing curious," said Draven, "go and see for yourself."
Togura wasn't tempted.
Somewhere in the city, a fire started; smoke billowed upwards. Men, disorganised, running in panic, stumbling, falling, pushing each other, came hustling out of the streets and onto the quayside. They began swarming onto the ships. On Togura's ship, nobody was giving orders; the captain was not in evidence.
"Well," said Draven. "So much for all that octopus-talk" - he meant hype - "about conquering the world. We've lost."
"The battle. The war."
"The one we're fighting in, little loon," said Draven. "Hell's blood! Where's the captain?"
"What do you want him for?"
"So I can bugger his boots with a jack-knife! Wat the hell do you think I want him for? So we can get the ship the hell out of here, that's what for."
"I think," said Togura, "you'd better take charge yourself."
"This isn't my ship," said Draven. Then, looking around at the scrummage on deck: "On the other hand - maybe you've got a point."
And Draven started roaring out orders.
"Avast there, salts and gobblers!" screamed Draven. "Listen for your lives! Brazen the spazjits! Lubber the lee! Untrice the hawsers!" Nobody paid any attention. "Come on, you rat-scum whore-rapists! Drop the scurfs in the brine! Get the plugs run-hauled!"
It was useless.
"Draven," said Togura, urgently. "Grab that man there. The big one, with the dragon tattoo. Talk him into your crew."
"Oh knot off," said Draven, pushing him away. Then, to the milling mob: "Plug up your gobs, you mouse-cocked chicken-shaggers! Hear out my orders!"
While Draven screamed himelf hoarse to no avail, Togura spoke to the dragon-tattoo man with an eloquence inspired by fear of death. Triumphant, he led his recruit back to Draven.
"Captain Draven," said the man, giving a clenched-fist salute. "I'm Ratbite Jakes, at your service."
"Good man!" said Draven, slapping him on the shoulder. Then, seeing Togura's strategy, and seeing now that it would work, he adopted it as his own. "Jakes," he said, pointing. "Grab that fellow over there! The one with the red hair! We need him!"
On the quayside, a battle royal was raging. No enemy was yet in sight, but men were fighting each other to get aboard the ships. Something in the city was roaring - it sounded like a huge animal. There was a cacophony of wreckage and rupture. It sounded as if all hell was marching toward them.
Draven, having gathered up half a dozen big, husky, capable-looking men, spoke to them swiftly, giving his orders. Then they dispersed, shouting their orders, press-ganging men as they went. Togura, Jakes and Draven, a three-man hunting pack, began to recruit a second echelon of group leaders.
Soon, Togura was getting control.
Half a dozen rowing boats were pirated from the harbourside. They began to lug the ship toward the harbour mouth. Togura, still sick and dizzy, got booted upstairs, and found himself in the rigging, floundering amidst the canvas.
The ship was slow, slow, slow to move.
"Hell's grief!" said a man, in shocked disbelief.
"What?" said Togura, trying to steady himself in the rigging and tie knots at the same time.
A rock was smashing its way out through the harbourside buildings. Roaring, it charged. Men ran, screaming. The rock crunched into them, corpsing them, pulping their bodies to strawberry jam. Togura, stunned, sickened, appalled, almost fainted and fell.
"Steady yourself!" said his comrade, grabbing him with a most welcome supporting hand.
The rock smashed its way to the quayside and charged their ship. It crashed into the gat between the ship and the sea, plunged down to the water, screamed, and was drowned down under. Draven, on the deck below Togura, shouted at the oarsmen to haul harder.
Togura closed his eyes.
Togura had once had a clash with a walking rock in Looming Forest, north of Lorford, but had later dismised the whole incident as a hallucination. But it seemed walking rocks were real! Hell's grief, indeed!
"Work on," said his comrade, shaking him.
"Yes," said Togura. "Yes."
The rowing boats lugged them clear of the harbour mouth. The wash of an outgoing river helped push them west, into the Central Ocean. As men did battle on the quayside with invading rocks and soldiers, other ships cleared the harbour.
Draven's ship picked up its rowing-boat men and began to sail with all canvas set. Five ships got free from the harbour. Togura clambered down to the deck, sweating, exhausted, his arms and legs quivering. His recent illness had left him weak as a butter-doll.
"Hello, Forester," said a friendly voice.
Togura turned, and found himself looking at a fair-haired young pirate with a raw straw beard.
"Who are you?" said Togura, sure he had never set eyes on the fellow before in his life.
"Come now! You remember me!"
"From where?" said Togura.
"From the time we were married, lover. No, jokes aside - I'm your old shipmate Drake. What's with the cuttlefish head?"
"Cuttlefish?" said Togura, bewildered. "What kind of fish is that?"
"No kind of fish at all," said the pirate Drake.
It was, in fact, a type of cephalopod, and "cuttlefish head" was, in pirate argot, a term for amnesia.
Togura found his legs folding up under him. He folded up after them. Shadows danced in front of his eyes like demented mosquitoes.
"If you don't remember me," said Drake, sitting down beside him, "I suppose it's the beard that's to blame. I didn't have it last time we met. Aboard the Warwolf, remember? Jon Arabin's ship. We lost you in the Penvash Channel, near the island of Drum."
"Oh," said Togura.
"Not very talkative, are we?" said Drake. "Got a hangover, have we? Better pull ourselves together, I think. We might have fighting soon."
"Look back to the harbour, man."
Togura looked, and saw another ship setting out to sea.
"So some more of us have got away," he said.
"That's not ours!" said Drake. "That's enemy!"
"How can you tell?"
"The sails, man, the sails! That gap-tooted raggage was never set by pirates! There's landsmen aboard that ship. In pursuit of us, my friend. Lusting for our eyeballs. Hearty for our gizzards. They'll cuttle us down and under, unless we're careful."
"Yes, well," said Togura. "Tell us when it's fighting time. I'm going to sleep."
He snoozed for a while. When he woke, eight enemy ships were in pursuit.
"Eight against five," said Togura.
"As odds go," said Drake, "it's not exactly picnic time. But never fear - I think we're hauling away on them. Griefs, they're still having trouble getting their canvas up!"
"Tell me if anything changes," said Togura.
And closed his eyes.
The sun was warm, the motion of the ship was easy, and he was very, very tired. He drifted off to sleep again, and was soon dreaming confused dreams in which blue-green sea serpents tangled their way through piles of chicken feathers which were swarming with baby turtles. In his dream, he found his way into a woman's thighs, and was just about to apologise when she clouted him on the head.
"What?" he cried, dazed by a mix of sleep and sunlight.
The ship lurched.
Something smashed into the vessel with a blow which was felt from keel to masthead.
"Sea serpents!" screamed Togura.
"No, whales!" shouted someone, looking overboard.
And whales they were. Big ones. Sperm whales, each more than twenty paces long. Water-surging cetacean wrath, charging the ship and battering it.
"Let's find ourselves a swim," said Drake.
"Something to float us," said Drake.
The ship, struck again, staggered, listed. It was holed. It was sinking. Togura was knocked to the ground as men brawled for possession of a choice "swim," a well-founded barrel. He lost sight of Drake.
The deck canted. The seas surged up. Togura staggered upright. Water boiled around him. He struck out, trying to swim, lest the descending rigging snag him and drown him under. Clearing the ship, he floundered round, turning in the water. He caught a glimpse of fully-rigged masts and canvas plunging under.
The water was cold and turbulent. The waves smashed down the screams of drowning men. The blue sky billowed above. Everywhere, pirates were going under. With a shock, Togura realised that hardly any of them could swim.
Then, with a greater shock, he realised that another ship was sinking. And a third was in trouble. Big trouble. As he watched, it suddenly turned turtle and plunged down out of sight, quick as gasping.
Another ship was riding through the waves toward him, closing the distance steadily. It looked as if it would ride him down. He saw men busy at its deckrail. Boarding nets were being lowered. Big, slow and stately, the ship ploughed through the seas toward him. he could make out its figurehead: a grene-haired girl with three breasts and five nipples.
Closer still it came, till he could see the name of the ship painted on its bow. He could see it, but he could not read it; it was scripted in arcane foreign ideograms he had never seen before in his life. Looking up, he saw the canvas being furled: the ship was losing headway.
"Swim, boy!" shouted someone.
It was Draven, floundering toward the ship.
"Come on, Forester!" yelled another voice. "Don't just float around wallowing! You're not in the bath, you know!"
That was Drake.
Togura struck out for the ship. As it yawed, he saw the black tar of its undersides. It plunged down again, rolling toward him. He grabbed the though hemp of the boarding net.
"Climb, you lazy whoreson dog!" shouted Draven, already half way to the deckrail.
But Togura could not. He clung there, shivering, exhausted. Someone climbed down to him. It was Drake. Who grabbed his hair.
"Up," said Drake, yanking.
He was merciless.
Togura managed to claw his way up a bit. Drake helped him. Bit by bit they scavenged their way up, while the rolling seas tried to batter them to death against the ship's indigo topsides.
They gained the deck, and Togura promptly fainted.
When he recovered, Drake told him the news. The enemy, for reasons unknown, had turned back for Androlmarphos. And the whales had gone.
They were, for the moment, safe.