‘Twas dark of the moon,
And cloudy, too —
Mikael the God-botherer,
Mikael the God-botherer!
The bats swirled around him
Like a darkling glow –
Mikael the God-botherer!
Oh, Mikael, ho!
Lydia says this is getting everything out of order. Raven points out it has terrible meter. Mikael can’t decide on the rhyme-scheme he wants, and I pointed out that we are none of us bards, and we should just put down what happened, plain and simple, and leave the legend-spinning to those who are good at it. And Ezekiel is too busy talking with the slaves to pay attention to our bickering, for once (also busy celebrating that whenever he’s sea-sick he doesn’t have to eat it again).
So here is Mikael’s story, as he told it to us this morning – and frankly I think the awesomeness of it speaks for itself without needing to rhyme. (Heiron suggested we use the tune of “Only Pretty Maids Get Free Drinks,” but I somehow don’t think that fits.)
When Mikael woke up, bound and gagged and locked in a narrow wooden box, he decided to try his luck as a beaver. So he transformed – which made the ropes and iron gag fall off – then set to work to chew his way up out of the coffin.
However, the guards noticed him as soon as he broke through the top, and they quickly popped him into a chicken cage. So that explains the beaver making angry beaver noises the whole long week they dragged us through the woods.
The transport force fed him dry scraps of porridge and things they could shove through the cage, but once we got to the ship, the crew there tied the cage to the middle of the deck and ignored him. Mikael says he transformed into a parrot so he could ask for crackers (or swear at them, as the occasion demanded) but they all ignored him. I suppose sailors get used to listening to angry parrots.
That same evening, Ezekiel decided to push the crew’s buttons, and all the guards started rushing down into the hold.
Mikael didn’t know what was happening, of course, but he could hear the bangs and screams and pounding of running feet, and see the ship’s officers charging down the ladders into the hold.
After a few attempts at biting through the wires of the cage (even parrots have their limits), he decided to try a different approach – transforming into a bear.
The cage shredded, and as he shook himself free of the bits of wood and wire – and the sailors stared at him, dumbfounded – Heiron swarmed up the ladder from the hold and pitched over the railing into the water.
Mikael decided Heiron probably didn’t know how to swim, and leaped over the side to help him – which turned out to be the right call, apparently, because Heiron was thrashing and floundering, just keeping his head above water. Black bears, as everyone knows, are fine swimmers, and Mikael kept Heiron afloat until he stopped thrashing so randomly, and then brought him close enough to the ship that he could grab an oar.
The sailors reached down and dragged Heiron back on board – beating him pretty badly afterwards – but as they were lining up their crossbows on Mikael, he turned into an albatross and flew off, and of course they couldn’t shoot an albatross (apparently it’s a sailor thing).
Mikael circled the ship, watching as the guards tied our bodies flat to the deck. By night, when the ship was stationary, he hid on shore – scrounging for food, and hunting for mistletoe he could carry in his loincloth…stealing snatches of sleep in the dead of night, when the clouds made it so dark even he couldn’t move about. By day, he joined the flock of sea-birds that followed the ship, keeping an eye on us…and making his plans.
He says we spent almost a week “laying about and sun-bathing,” so it was the second of Patchwall when he made his move…
Mikael began on shore, summoning a swarm of bats to help him out. It was full dark, when the crew would be below-decks, and the guards sleepy… After growing half the bats to twice their normal size, he turned himself into one, also, and led them out to the ship.
Sneaking to a position behind a stack of crates, he smoothly switched from bat to human (none of us could see how smooth it was, but it’s true he practiced a lot with the dolphin body).
The first sign the guards had of something wrong was when a cloud of enormous bats descended on them, squeaking and tearing with their tiny teeth. Mikael says he “befriended” one of the guards at the prow, while the other two were torn to pieces within minutes. Their blood-curdling screams alerted the watchman at the stern of the ship, who lit a torch and tried to raise the alarm.
With the element of surprise used up, Mikael rolled some mistletoe between his fingers…and the plank of wood that Lydia, Raven, and Heiron were tied to creaked shrilly as it shrank and warped.
If anyone was still asleep at that point, I’m not sure how. Raven and Heiron started struggling to snap their bonds the rest of the way off the deck-board – but of course, Raven was tied by his elbows as well as his wrists, and we mustn’t think too badly of him for not getting it.
Mikael scattered some seeds around the top of the ladder to the hold (finding any seeds this time of year must have been a story all by itself) and came to try and untie the others of us, but it didn’t go very well in the dark.
Then – a snapping crack as Heiron broke the board the rest of the way, and sprang to his feet.
Mikael asked his “friend” to get the swords from the dead men, but before he had a chance, Heiron had overheard him, jumped up, and dashed away to grab one. Lydia sat up, ripped the leather thing off her face, and waved her hand at the mast…bright light coated it, and we all had to squint for a moment.
In the better light, Mikael got my wrists and ankles free, and when I got the straps off my mouth I could ask him and his “friend” where another sword was. The “friend” looked a little confused and worried, but he handed over his short sword. I’m not sure what happened to him after that…maybe he jumped over the side later on when the sailors were doing that.
I paid no attention to him, since it seemed Mikael had that covered. When I gained my feet (stiff and shaky), I saw Raven at the stern of the ship, fighting the watchman with a torch and a new guard who showed up with a crossbow.
I moved forward to help him, but Heiron charged the length of the deck and killed the guy with the crossbow, and Raven took care of the guy with the torch.
He told me the door there at the stern was probably to the captain’s quarters, so I helped him hold it closed while Lydia put out her light on the mast and led Heiron around to where the ship’s longboat was (apparently big ships carry around smaller boats so people can paddle to shore and such). The hinges were on the outside of the door, so we jammed it closed with a crossbow quarrel and a short sword (in lieu of those crampons Wonillon always had).
About that time, I realized I couldn’t hear either of us breathing, and I turned around to find Mikael and Ezekiel – both unmuzzled, dressed in the minimum, and armed with belaying pins (that’s another ship thing, apparently).
That was all of us accounted for, and Raven was ready to jump in the longboat with Heiron and Lydia and row away – but Ezekiel told us to wait (he can talk in silence spells, remember) because he might not get a better chance to kill the captain.
Killing the captain sounded like a great way to reduce some of my stress…and besides, as I wrote above, I’d had a lot of time to consider my life purpose over the last several days. Ehlonna brought us all this distance, and put us in this place, for a reason…and I couldn’t really imagine that reason being “cut and run.”
So Raven and I waited around for Ezekiel to get himself together (Heiron and Lydia had the boat practically in the water, but I guess he told them to stick close and see what happened).
Meanwhile, Mikael was occupying the rest of the boat.
As we learned to our loss last time, there were a lot more people on the boat than you might initially think. As we messed around with blocking the captain’s door, a bunch of overseers and maybe the first mate or something swarmed up the ladder from their quarters. But Mikael had prepared for this, and ordered his seeds to “sicc’em.”
I don’t know how you make grass seeds sprout on a ship’s deck in Patchwall. I guess that’s a super secret druid thing that they don’t teach to outsiders. But sprout they did – and grew – and wrapped around the ankles of the guards at the prow…like the fingers of an angry Obed-Hai saying, “Don’t mess with my druid.”
Ezekiel can shush people, and make it stick – so he silenced the entire group…and then Mikael called down insects to torment them.
I did not have a crossbow (Heiron took the only one at the stern), and it seemed Mikael had the prow of the ship covered, anyway, so I didn’t see much of the ordeal. What I saw will haunt my nightmares, however…a half-dozen dark figures, visible only by the eery out-lining of faery fire, writhing and swatting and tugging at their feet, lunging desperately to get over the side – or anywhere – away from the hungry swarm of tiny creatures.
One of them had his wits together enough to fight back. He waved his javelin at Mikael and shot lightening across the deck – but after the second bolt, Mikael moved out of range and joined us around the door.
Meanwhile, Raven and I undid all the blocking we did to the door – only to find it locked from the other side. Smart men. It took a minute or two for Raven to pry the hinges off with a dagger he’d found, and then we threw open the door—
To find ourselves facing a half-dozen armed men. Apparently the room was more “superiors’ quarters” than “captain’s suite.”
Within moments, Mikael had lit them up with faery fire, and Raven and I planted ourselves in the doorway. I admit, I’m kind of proud of how well I used the iron shackle around my wrist to deflect blows, though I haven’t practiced with short sword very recently and my starving, dehydrated hand kept losing its grip on it.
Raven seemed to do just fine. He’s always turned up his nose at armor (and apparently clothes don’t matter to him, either), and naturally he’s much better at unarmed fighting, since he’s practiced so much more.
I glimpsed a couple men in the back spinning around and slapping at insects – that was Mikael’s doing. Frankly, I felt like little more than a sun-browned blade-magnet, but Raven says I killed about as many as he did, so I wasn’t totally useless. He’s nice like that (!).
Through the blood thrumming through my ears, I heard Ezekiel tell me to fall back – and right about then, somebody laid open my arm with a cutlass, so I decided that sounded like a nice idea.
I switched places with Ezekiel, and backed up to where Mikael was watching — he prayed over my wounds so that I wasn’t actively bleeding all over the place, and we could watch Raven and Ezekiel mop up the few overseers that were left.
I didn’t have a ranged weapon, but I didn’t feel like just sitting on the sidelines when there was something to do. And, well, I admit it…I was a bit salty about being tied to the deck in my under-things for a solid week.
Also Ehlonna doesn’t like slavery – she thinks people should be as free as the trees and the birds – and when I pointed at the pilot (that’s the guy who flogged Ezekiel’s head the last time we made trouble), Ehlonna’s power leapt across the air between us and burned up his brains. It sounds gross, but I am not sympathetic. I’ve seen the marks on the slaves.
Ezekiel was carrying a muzzle, and Mikael had some rope — they wanted to secure the captain for later questioning, but I think by the time they got to him, Raven had choked him to death or something. Raven swears it was an accident, and Ezekiel says, after all, we can try the rod of resurrection at the very least.
Raven killed the pace-setter (the guy on the drums), and the confrontation was over. I turned to check on the group at the prow, but all I could see was faintly glowing corpses strewn all over the deck.
Raven hailed Lydia and Heiron that the battle was over. Turns out all the sailors heard the ruckus from their quarters, and abandoned ship – but it’s not worth worrying about…and certainly not worth hunting them down.
I explored the “captain’s/officers’ quarters” for anything that looked useful (and clothes that fit, of course), and by the time Lydia came back on deck, I had something that fit her (Ezekiel patched her up a bit, but she says her skin is still tender).
Heiron went below and unchained all the slaves – though we all still have the manacles riveted around our wrists. Most of them seem to be in shock. They heard the start of the battle, of course – but for the second part of that half-hour, it was mostly silent…only Ezekiel could make any noise. Heiron and Ezekiel dug through the personal belongings in the bunkhouse and found clothes for everyone, and then Ezekiel prayed over some of the officers’ rations and handed around plenty for everyone.
Mikael thanked the remaining bats and sent them off – after “befriending” one of them so she would stick around.
Tafosi talked to me in Flannish for a minute, and commented how nice the weather was for the time of year, but I really don’t think he knows what to make of all this. The slaves are of all types and from all over, but there’s four or five speaking Flannish together, and maybe if they stay as a group they can help each other home.
Lydia, Ezekiel, and Mikael took over the officers’ bunkhouse to rest, study, and plan…but I didn’t feel at ease last night. After eating something, Heiron helped me pile all the bodies together, and then stand watch.
The elf captain was wearing some bracers that are probably magical – and had a nice longsword. He also had a spell-book (that Lydia flipped through), and one of his men had a potion bottle and some above-average chainmail.
It’s not the level we’re used to, but for borrowed/acquired gear, it’s not too bad. I would dearly like a longbow, though.
At dawn, we could see that, in the longboat, it would just be a short row to shore. Ezekiel organized a thorough search of the ship, looking for “clues.” He also read through the captain’s logbook while Heiron helped me interview every one of the slaves (that took quite a while).
Will compile some notes on that when I have more time. Bottom line: never get a druid angry. We briefly examined the bodies in the light of day…and the ones devoured alive by insects look more horrifying to me. Raven asked, was it worse than casting a spell and spearing an enemy’s brain with energy? I said, first, Rangers don’t cast spells, and second, at least that was quick.
Seriously, though, I’m very glad Mikael can do all the things he can do. Turns out changing into an animal isn’t just a party trick, but a seriously handy skill…and I had no idea he could make grass seeds shoot out long, grasping fibers and grab people’s legs from the deck of a ship (we had to clear away some of the vegetation to get to the prow hatch). Mikael says Obed-Hai was feeling generous.
Still have to figure out where we are, and our next move. Ezekiel is poring over the charts in the officers’ room with Lydia.
Beaver and bear and al-batross,
Bat and sea-gull and man.
The ways of the forest are never strange
To Mikael, who counts them his friends.
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