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Sail On

29 Jan

The otter kit was so tiny when Henric bought the litter’s runt from a young merchant’s crying daughter.  To reassure the young girl, he kissed the squeaking, wriggling creature on the head. “It’s alright, little one.  I’ll take good care of the little one.” He smiled at the girl and handed her father a small handful of gold coins and walked away.  As he left, he heard the girl’s father make an off-color comment about cocky nobility.

It didn’t matter.  He had a ship to buy now.  With an otter kit in his arm and a sack of gold at his side, he walked down to the docks.

The city reeked of dead fish, vomit, and stale water.  The stench of many a vice hung in the air, and as he passed an alley, he thought he saw a bloody boot, but steered clear.  The sooner he had his boat and returned with it to civilization, the better.  He hated the cold, and he hated the stink.

The tiny otter in his arm sneezed, and he looked down at the fuzzy little creature.  The markings weren’t unusual, but any otter with that pattern to its fur was known for being easy to train– even easier than a dog– and still retained its wild instincts that detected danger.  He wrapped the creature up inside his handkerchief and tucked it under his padded under-tunic, where his body heat could keep the tiny thing warm, and the cloth could hopefully reduce how much the little thing’s nose was assaulted any further.

Times were difficult for several months as Henric searched for a seller that no longer wanted a working, sound ship.  The time passed slowly, and Henric’s funds slowly dribbled away as he trained his otter and raised it.  Many nights, he went without food because the tiny otter, named Fou, needed special care.

Half a year passed, and Henric had a boat, but he had no crew and the winter weather was horrible.  He took on a labor job to make ends meet, and even though he became gaunt and bony, he was pleased with life.  Fou was a constant source of joy, with his silly antics and exuberant wiggles.

Otter and human became close, and when spring’s worst storms passed, Henric and Fou stood proudly at the head of a ship filled with sailors and cargo, bound for the Golden City of La Doraport in Highpoint.  While little of the cargo sold, Henric made enough profit to pay his sailors, and many stayed on board.

Fou was quick to learn which sailors offered the best tidbits of their meals to him, and his already-wide hips became fat, despite his energetic scampering about.  Eventually, even Henric and his sailing crew began to gain weight.

It was a windy day near the end of fall when Henric’s suppliers suddenly told the man that they no longer needed him.  He searched all throughout Icesog, and then Highpoint, through Driazhek’s ports, and then Lushzhek.  His sailors were hungry.

A foggy night brought opportunity and damnation to Henric’s ship, and he took it.  With a grim expression, he took the opportunity and asked his men join him as he dropped a plank slowly between his ship and another.  At first, nobody followed.

Fou was the first, and he darted between Henric’s legs with a chirp.  The little otter’s bravery encouraged others, and soon, it was a fifteen man crew that walked across the plank, onto another ship, as pirates.  They disabled the members of the crew that were awake by sapping them, then stole less than half of their cargo before they nervously boarded Henric’s Spotted Lord.

For several days, they hid out near the cliffs of Tradzhek while they argued over who to sell the stolen food to.  If they sold it to whoever the original recipient was, they might get caught, and because piracy was rare, none knew what kind of punishment would lay in store for their skinny necks.  One suggestion rose to eat it, and that was quickly shot down– the food they were carrying was quality, and that meant money to buy a much larger amount.

During the stay, Fou captured many fish and, with the help of a knotted rope, hauled them up for the crew, who began to fish as well, though few caught any.  The crew survived, though they became thin, and eventually, the light from a tower on a cliff nearby drove the crew further south.  They decided to go to Icesog to sell their food, and sold it to a local baron.  Several people left Henric’s crew in search of better opportunities that didn’t worry their morals.

A few new members joined, and fell in love with Fou, who frequently ran away into the swamp when they were in the docks.  A month passed while Henric sought out cargo, and he instead found passengers, aimed for the capital.  Their heavy purses bought them passage for not only them, but their mounts and all of their belongings, as well.

With a whistle, Henric called Fou back, and the now-grown otter chirped in greeting as it ran past its master and onto the boat.  The otter was bloody and stinky, and a sailor picked him up before he could run into the noble passengers.  Fou was bathed and bandaged, and Henric put off setting out for another day while he sought out a priest to tend to his pet.

He didn’t find one, so he set out and set one of his sailors to otter care during the night, while he cared for the creature during the day.

During the night, Fou suddenly began to screech and bark.  Henric woke and rushed to the injured otter.  He wrapped Fou in a towel and murmured reassurances to him, but Fou would not be quiet, and instead struggled against Henric.  The otter dashed away and began to bark as he ran along the lines of sleeping sailors in hammocks, then dashed up the stairs as fast as his short legs would carry him.  He continued his cries and barks of alarm.

Henric emerged from his cabin and came up onto the deck.  He looked around to gain his bearings, and saw no stars at all, save far behind them, and those told him that he was several leagues too far north and west.  He yelled orders to his steering man and rudder man, and through gusting wings, he tried to steer them closer to land. “All hands on deck!  Storm’s brewing!” He yanked on his oiled hat and jacket, and several sailors did the same.

Fou dashed at Henric, and the man lifted the otter onto his shoulders. “Hold on tight, Fou.” he murmured.  His voice was more gruff than when the man was younger.  He looked around with a weary face. “In my thirty years on the sea with you, I’ve never felt such dread over a storm.” He pulled the brim of his hat down as the rain began to fall, and began to call orders as Fou tried to direct Henric which way to steer. The man resisted only a moment before he began to listen to his pet.

As the winds rose and the rain began to batter harder, the sailors could no longer hear the captain, and he began to steer himself.  The night became blacker than anything he’d seen before.  The rain and wind were like ice, and the boat rocked dangerously.  The sounds of the storm killed all sensation, and only Fou’s warmth on his neck kept Henric from simply letting go of the wheel.

As dawn rose in the east, a lone ship, half-sunken, rested in a cove within the Saldecla Channel.  The only sign of life was a crying otter, trying to wake a man who seemed asleep as he gripped the wheel of his ship.  There were no sailors, nor any living beings below deck.

Fou was alone and alive, clinging to the man who raised him from a kit.  He cried agony to the heavens, and lived on the ship for years before finally, he curled up at Henric’s dead feet and fell asleep on a warm, sunny day.

He dreamed of happier times, when he was fat and Henric and the crew were, too.  He dreamed of warmth and love, and as he dreamed, his soul slipped away to join the captain’s.

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