Story for the Day: The Slave Galley - Part 2
“A Sesternese name for a Marridonian lady?”
“Her mother was Sesternese.”
Danaco glanced again at the portrait. “You said it was a Sesternese galley she was placed on?”
“Yes, one large enough to hold at least a hundred slaves.”
“Describe it to me, as well you can.”
“It had red striped sails and one of the Sesternese Saints as the figurehead. The Docksmaster said the ship was called the Septuna.”
“I know the name,” Danaco mused. “I have seen her in her birth a douzen times, but never with any cargo on her. She is a transport for hire.”
“Then you know it, sir?” the merchant exclaimed.
“Know of it surely, but there are one in a hundred galleys of that description cruising the southward bend of the seas. And sails might be changed to keep from incurring suspicion in enemy waters—rather that is what I should do, were I sailing a ship with stolen merchandise. A slaver masquerading as a trading vessel would travel better than a slaver exposed. And bound for Thellis? With a full haul? Madness to sail the long way round, and even worse to sail through the Marridonian Channel with an illegal vessel half so large. The entire bottom of the hull will be tatters by the end of such a journey. Maddness indeed to attempt it with such a consignment, if the captain mean to keep his ship in order. We might find your daughter safe and lounging on the rocks, if their boatswain be so foolish to travel that way.”
“Do you mean, captain, that there is a good chance of catching up to them?”
“There must be with my ship. The Myrellenos in a royal frigate and is made for speed. A Sesternese galley never is. My ship can fly through the channel with scarcely a difficulty, but a Sesternese barge of such magnitude must go around it. I will roll through at half sail and meet them on the other side. Yes,” returning the portrait and gazing at the merchant, “it might be easily done, if the ship you saw be the one we’re looking for. I only hope your daughter is on it, for if we raid the vessel and she be not present, I shall have a slave galley and nothing to do with it, and you no daughter.”
“Please, captain,” the merchant wailed, leaning forward and grasping the captain’s hand, “you must look for her, I entreat you.”
“I think your entreaty might be done without such violent supplications, sir,” said Danaco, cautiously pulling his hand away. “I only need some incentive that is not moral propriety. I would look for the young lady if only asked to do, but my crew, of course, requires material compensation.”
The merchant reached for a parcel beside him, and with a determined countenance, he tossed it into the table. It made a heavy clink, and then sagged sadly to the side.
“There is half your reward,” the merchant declared, with a firm flout. “Find my daughter, captain, and if you do discover her on that ship and if she has been harmed in any way, I want you to kill the men who dared touch her.”
“I mean to do nothing else, sir,” Danaco fleered. “How can I allow the scoundrel to live who brings a child into slavery? He does not deserve to breathe who can. Rest assured, sir, that my work will be done very thoroughly, and if your daughter is not amongst the hordes in the brig or at the oars, I will return with some information of her whereabouts. If she has been taken into slavery, someone will have something to say about it. A girl so young and distinctive must have a destination attached to her, and for such a fortune as you’re offering, I would go halfway across the continents and back to secure the wellbeing of so beloved a daughter.”
The merchant made a weak smile. “You must have a child, captain, to understand my plight so well.”
“No,” said Danaco, in a careless tone, “I have only been looking for an excuse to raze a Sesternese ship into the sea. With Marridon and Lucentia being on disinterested terms with Sesterna, I cannot attack any of their vessels without just case, though the wafting stench of their galleys is cause enough, I daresay. Here you report a kidnapping and illegal dealings between two neutral nations, and the suspicion of such is enough to warrant an attack of some kind. Sesterna glories in its right to slavery, but it should never be found stealing Marridonians and selling them off to an enemy, for while Sesterna and Thellis are on tolerable decent terms, Marridon and Thellis have seldom been friends. You give me the opportunity to act in the interests of Marridon.”
“Marridon, captain?” said the merchant, bemused. “But are you not Lucentian?”
“And cannot I be both Lucentian and Marridonian at once? Do not you hear my accent, sir? My beautiful enunciation and expression was not learned in Lucentia.”
“But your appearance, sir—“
“And, my, we have learned nothing from our discussion on appearances.”
The merchant was inclined to admit that he had apparently gleaned little from the captain’s lectures, but he could allow for the slight to his powers of discernment: the captain had agreed to search for his daughter, and there must be all his sanguine reprieve, and with a few words of thanks and the ardent insistence of, “Find her, captain. Find her, and bring her home to me,” the conversation came to its close. The business was over, the contract accepted, and with a shake of the hand, the captain stood from his chair, paid his parting compliments, and quitted the hall, his leave as splendid and as dignified as his entrance.
With some scruples as to his daughter’s safety and some obviated feelings, the merchant leaned back in his chair, indulging in heavy sighs and reaching for brighter aspirations. As an anxious father, he could not be made easy about the whole business until his daughter was actually before him, but something about the captain, about his confident manner and valiant ambulation, afforded him a something like solace, and he sat musing over this heartening sensation, until shaken into alarm by the publican, who came from his perch at the bar and began accosting him with questions as to whether he had decided to have anything to drink and prove himself a good patron, or whether he would be leaving directly as the table was wanted for someone else who, though not in the hall at present, would no doubt be in want of a place away from the fire and who would be more desirous of offering the hall the honour of their custom. The merchant stood and made an awkward bow, taking a few coins from his pocket and asperging them across the table. He could not stay; he was still too anxious about the loss if his daughter, and with a solemn bow and a severe, “Good day to you,” the merchant left the hall, wondering when it was that the strange captain should return to him and apprehensive for his daughter being found unharmed.