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fantasy novel chapter 38
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Warning: this novel is intended for an adult audience. It contains violence and vulgar language and, additionally, contains at least a little sexual content.

THE WORDSMITHS AND THE WARGUILD by Hugh Cook - Chapter 38

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Chapter 38

        As the courier cutter coursed for the Greater Teeth, Draven did his best to dispel the prevailing gloom aboard, a gloom which was consequent on defeat behind and an uncertain future ahead. He organised sing-songs, joke-telling sessions and a fishing competition.
        Togura, who won the fishing by catching a small thresher shark, was dismayed to find that the first prize was being thrown overboard. Second prize was the chance to command the courier cutter for a man overboard exercise; fortunately, the man with the second-best fish was a competent seaman, and Togura, very angry and very wet, was rescued from the waters of the deep.
        Third prize was a choice between getting keelhauled or eating the thresher shark, raw, bones and all. Shark-eating proved to be an amusing spectator sport; the man playing gourmet vomited twenty-seven times before he finally mouthed down the very last of the fish.
        "Fourth prize," said Draven jovially, "is getting skinned alive."
        However, as only three people had caught fish, fourth prize was not awarded.
        Drake also organised a tug-of-war, a rat-fighting competition and a knuckleskull league, knuckleskull being a pirate game which is played with cudgels, and tends to lead to bad headaches or worse. Then there was the game of "Quivliv Quoo," which means, literally, "Slippery Octopus." One person ties another up; the captive, if he can escape, gets the chance to throw a bucket of water over the person who did up the knots. There was, once, a drinking race; they did not have enough liquor on board for a second session.
        They also played the traditional pirate game of "First Off," which, though it was obscene and improper in the extreme, did not lead to Togura losing his virginity.
        Then there was story telling.
        Draven told the best stories, for he had been to that weird and wonderful place, the continent of Tameran. Most of his stories were about the evil dralkosh, Yen Olass Ampadara, who had tortured him, killed him, then resurrected him.
        "A one-woman brothel, she was," said Draven. "She took on the whole army once, out in the open sun. I was there. I saw it. Even when they were exhausted, she still hand't had enough."
        And Draven told the story of how, thanks to his wisdom, his cunning, his sagacity, his strength and his courage, he had finally been able to outwit the Ampadara woman and escape, returning, in the end, to his beloved Greater Teeth.
        "That Ampadara woman," said Draven, "she was the most monstrous bundle of female sin I've ever clapped eyes on. In her own person, she was argument enough for the rule of men over women. Her every act was designed to break me - she couldn't bear to see a man live free."
        "She might tell it different," said Togura, still displeased about having been thrown overboard from the cutter.
        "Ay," said Draven. "So she might. But then, she was the most wily liar in all of creation."
        "What happened to her then?" asked Togura.
        "That," said Draven, "is another story. I'll save it for tomorrow's night watch."
        But Togura never got to hear that story, for when dawn broke the next day, they found themselves closing with the islands of the Greater Teeth, notorious lair of the Orfus pirates, of whom Draven was one.
        In former days, many generations ago, the island of Drum had been the centre of piracy. Then the sea dragons had arrived. In theory, pirates and sea dragons could have coexisted. In practice, the pirates had failed to conceal their contempt for sea dragon artistry; outraged sea dragon poets, philosophers, orators, rock gardeners, punsters and pyrotechnists had responded by slaughtering their critics. The surviving pirates had retreated to the Greater Teeth.
        Since then, the sea dragon population of Drum had sharply decined, thanks largely to their promiscuous sexual habits, which had helped spread disastrous venereal diseases through their ranks. Indeed, over the last couple of generations, an epidemic of a viral disease causing an acquired immune deficiency syndrome had almost driven the sea dragons to extinction.
        However, the pirates, being creatures of habit like everyone else, had not returned to Drum; they had stayed on the Greater Teeth.
        As a small boy, hearing idle adult talk of pirates living on the Greater Teeth, Togura had imagined rows and rows of huge molars - perhaps twice the height of a man - with one or two pirates squatting on top of each. He had imagined the pirates dressed in beggarman rags; in his fancy, the molars had been set in the middle of butterfly meadows.
        Traces of this boyhood misapprehension remained in his mind, so he was surprised, at first, to see gaunt skerries thrusting up from the surf, and, beyond those skerries, towering rock ramparts crowned with trees.
        "Where are we?" he asked.
        "This is Knock," said Draven. "We'll berth at the Inner Sleeve, which is my home harbour. You'd best stay at my home for the time; you've nowhere else to go."
        "Why, thank you," said Togura.
        "You look surprised. Don't be so. I may be rough, but I've got my honour, like any other man. I pay my debts."
        This was said with such sincerity that Togura, for a moment, actually believed it; in any case, whatever he thought of Draven's honour, he did need somewhere to stay, so Draven's invitation was welcome.
        The coastline of Knock was forbidding. Rocks awash with water jutted from the waves; other rocks lurked beneath the surface.
        "Is this dangerous?" said Togura.
        "Naw," said Draven. "We all know these waters as well as we know our toenails."
        A moment later, the courier cutter scraped on the bottom, suggesting that none of them knew their toenails terribly well. They got off without damage, but Togura became increasingly jittery, watching the sea swashbuckle agaisnt the pitiless cliffs.
        A big skerry slipped past, giving him aview of a new stretch of ciff. At first, in a moment of dreamlike dismay, he thought he was looking at a vast expanse of black cloth seething with lice, and that the lice were screaming at him. Then he realised that the entire cloud-challenging cliff was one huge bird rookery, and that what he was hearing was the cries of a million sea birds.
        Ahead was a clutter of skerries, with a narrow sealane between them and the cliff. The courier cutter sailed into the sealane and promptly lost the wind. Men began to furl the sails.
        "Well then," said Draven. "How do you like it?"
        "How do I like what?" said Togura.
        "My home."
        "Your home? Where?"
        "There, of course," said Draven, pointing at one of the larger skerries. "Can't you tell a house rock when you see one? Look, don't you see the handholds cut in the side?"
        "You mean we have to climb up there!"
        "Yes, and pull the ship up after us," said Draven, deadpan.
        "Oh, bullshit," said Togura, realising he was being conned.
        "Not so," said Draven. "There's no bulls in the Greater Teeth. Though fishshit makes a handy meal when the famines come."
        "The famines?"
        "Every tenth year they come," said Draven, solemnly. "All the little stones come to life. They crawl up from the sea. Feeding. You can hardly walk, for they're shifting under your feet. They'll eat the leather from your boots, the snot from your nose. If you're not careful, they'll crawl up your arse and eat - "
        "Give it a rest," said Togura. "That's a story on stilts if ever I heard one. You won't get me believing a dreamscript like that - I'm not a child, you know."
        "No?" said Draven. "You could've fooled me."
        At that moment, they were hailed by a boat rowing out from a cleft in the cliff. Their courier cutter had been sighted by a lookout; soon more oar-boats came to meet them, and they were towed into the cleft, which was larger than it seemed at first blush. The cliff-cleft opened onto a small, rock-locked harbour, where they docked.
        After a dockside conference at which news was exchanged - many of the women and children who had come to meet the cutter were soon weeping, for the cutter broughtnews of many deaths - some of the men set out in smaller boats to spread the news throughout the Greater Teeth. But Draven set off home. Tougura went with him.
        They travelled through long, gloomy tunnels, reaching, at last, a cave home which had light shafts piercing through a seaward cliff face, and a waste shaft delved down sheer to the black night of a seafilled cave. In an inner chamber lit by smoky seal-oil lamps, Draven and Togura ate, feeding on crabs, fish paste, whelks, edible seaweeds, pickled onions and mushrooms.
        Two of Draven's women served them. The women wore their hair in the leading fashion of the Greater Teeth: grown long, it was tied in a multitude of plaits evenly arranged around the head, so that some plaits, falling directly over the face, served as a veil of sorts. After the mela, the women - who did not speak to the men - served small cups of a hot, dark fluid which Togura took to be liquid mud.
        "This is coffee," said Draven.
        "Coffee?"
        "Foreign stufff. We get it by way of loot, but seldom. It's rare, so drink - you'll not get it elsewhere."
        Out of courtesy, Togura drank. He decided that he would not care if he never got it elsewhere. All things considered, he'd rather have an ale.
        Togura supposed that he would get the chance of an ale soon enough, for there would surely be a homecoming feast of some kind. But he was wrong. There was no feast - only a gathering of sombre, serious men who came to talk politics with Draven. Who was forthright in his views:
        "I said for starters we'd no business whoring after foreign wars. The sea's a steady business, we'd no need for speculations. This empire talk's no good for us."
        "Many men," said a pirate, "support this Elkor Alish. They say he's got an army coming from Rovac."
        "Ay, walking on water no doubt. Many man say this, and many men say that, but I tell you one thing for certain - many men are in their graves thanks to this empire nonsense. You speak of support for Alish. I say: here's a blade. Good steel, this. A length of it can unsupport a hero, if need be."
        "Walk softly, friend Draven. Some would call that treason."
        "Would they? And are we not free men? Since when did a pirate hold his tongue, under the sun or out of it? Treason, you say! What kind of lubber-lawyer talk is that? What next? A law of libel and a court of defamations?
        "Come, friends, what's this talk of treason? This Elkor Alish weighs upon the earth like an emperor, yet his empire non-exists. Non-existing, how does it dare to claim our freedoms? All our gain is loss. We've had not a whit-jot benefit from these foreign wars, yet many men breathe earth or water thanks to this foolishness. I say: finish it. Elkor Alish can lord it over Runcorn with those who wish to be lorded over. But we: we lord it over ourselves. I say: if Elkor Alish ventures here, we'll feed him steel to breathe. This steel. With my own hand I'll do it."
        Thus spoke Draven. Then, turning to Togura:
        "Did you hear what we were talking of?"
        "Me?" said Togura. "I'm stone deaf."
        "Ay, and mute, too, if you're wise. Now, enough of this dirging! I'm home from the wars, I'll not talk blood and burial all night. Let's have a bit of sparking, hey? Deaf-mute, sing us a song."
        Togura hesitated.
        "What, silence?" siad Draven. "Is this how you repay hospitality?"
        Togura knew, by now, something of the nature of pirate fun. It could well be that he was in the most fearful danger. What if they didn't like his singing? They might cut out his tongue! What if they did like it? They might reward him by cutting his testicles off - he had heard vague rumours of such things happening to favoured singers in far-off Chi'ash-lan.
        Coming to a decision, Togura hauled out the casket which held his triple-harp.
        "Sholabarakosh," said Togura.
        "What kind of a song is that?" said Draven.
        "It's not a song, it's the name of my harp," said Togura, taking the triple-harp from the box, which had now opened.
        Shyly, he struck up a note. Then conjured up some percussion. Then suddenly, without warning, roused the air with trumpets louder than elephants. One man sat up so fast he knocked himself out against an overhang.
        "That's something!" said Draven. "Can you pick up this tune?"
        And he sang the tune of "The Pirate's Homecoming," the words of which begin like this:

                "Her thighs were hot, her thighs were wide,
                And ready she was waiting."

        After a little bit of difficulty, Togura managed to pick up the tune. Soon he was embellishing it. Truly, as has been Written (in Golosh IV, magna 7, script 2, verse xii): Music hath Powers. Soon all the pirates, though they had no liquor inside them, were singing, clapping and slapping their thighs; and Togura, no longer in fear of death or demolition, was learning what it was like to be popular.


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The text on this page is part of the fantasy novel The Wordsmith and the Warguild by Hugh Cook, which, when published in North America in 1988, was divided into two separate volumes, The Questing Hero and The Hero's Return. This text can be read for free online. However, the text is copyright - all rights reserved. For permission to use this text or any portion of it contact Hugh Cook.

The Wordsmiths and the Warguild was first published in 1987. Copyright © 1987, 1988, 1998, 2004, 2006 Hugh Cook.


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