Cluiun is an Erien setting story that ties in with Moment's.
Art word by Samuel Pray, created using Daz 3D, Photoshop and Filter Forge.
The Cluiun stood near the wheel and inhaled, tasting the fresh breeze and salt air. This was the life he had wanted yet would have been denied to him, had his father been successful. Hells, if his father ever found him, ever found a way to drag Cluiun back, everything Cluiun had worked would be stripped away from him. Fortunately, only one person knew for certain that The Cluiun and that missing boy were one in the same and that man was one Cluiun knew would never betray him.
No man could ever ask for a truer friend.
He turned, letting his gaze move over the men working on the deck. Each man knew their place, the task assigned to them and the banter that passed between them was relaxed, the conversation of men who knew and trusted their colleagues. They weren’t the best of crews, he wasn’t foolish enough to believe that his crew would never be bested, yet he was proud of them. For the most part they had sailed together for at least two years now under his captaincy, and some had been with him prior to that, serving on other ships but only Joran had been with him for the seven years since they had fled their assigned roles.
“They’ve pulled together over this last voyage.” Joran climbed the steps, his blue-grey eyes dancing with mirth. “Admittedly with a few smacks along the way, but they’re a decent crew.”
“Aye, that they are.” Cluiun agreed, his gaze pausing on one of the youngest members of the crew. “He’s pushing himself too much today though. I don’t think he’s taken a meal break all day.”
Joran glanced back. “That’s Karl - kid has been pushing hard since he joined the crew but you’re right. He’s not taken a meal break as yet today.” Joran waved at one of the older men working on the deck and then pointed at Karl. The grey haired man looked over and then nodded, curling up the rope he’d been working on before approaching the youngster. “Frank will make sure he takes a break.”
Of that Cluiun had no doubt. “Good, we don’t need someone collapsing because they were stupid.”
“As opposed to collapsing through blood loss. Got it,” Joran smirked.
Cluiun bit back a chuckle. “Yeah, well that’s a valid reason, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Maybe, depends on the reason. I mean, if the man cut himself, he’d be in trouble, but a wound honorably taken, that’s another matter entirely.” Joran mused, pausing for a moment. “It would need to be an actual wound, not a knick or paper cut. There’d have to be witnesses, wouldn’t you agree?”
How the man kept a straight face was beyond Cluiun. “We’d need to consider the source.”
Both men fell silent as Cluiun headed to the railing, letting his gaze drift toward the shore. “Weather looks good, no signs of a storm coming in.” Cluiun rolled out his shoulders. “No aches reported from the older members of the crew either, unless you’ve heard something.”
“No, nothing.” Joran confirmed.
“Good,” something moved through the sky, marking a slow path upward. He shifted his weight, trying to get a better look at it only to shake his head. “I have a bad feeling about this.”
“Odd, that looks like smoke,” Joran murmured as he moved alongside of his Captain and leaned heavily on the railing. “Not something normally seen here. Not this close to shore at least.”
“Maybe, but it could be just a camp fire.” His gaze narrowed. Joran confirmed his suspicions, a small tendril of smoke curled upward from the distant shore, tinted by the setting sun, but still enough to draw his attention. He frowned, leaning on the wooden railing along side of Joran. Something large and dark sat at the bottom of the smoke, though they were too far away to make out any details. The area wasn’t known for settlements and the amount of smoke didn’t add up for a single camp fire, nor did the shape that was the source of the smoke, despite his words.
“True enough,” Joran smiled and turned his attention to the crew, calling out orders. “But that’s a lot of smoke for a camp fire, even a bloody big camp fire Captain - and we both know it.”
“Aye, we do.” A fishing vessel? That would explain the location. Had one been attacked by pirates or a rival fishing crew? Neither was unheard of but again there was too much smoke for a small craft. It had to be something larger and each swell of the waves drew them closer to the source of the fire. Curiosity itched the back of his neck and he rubbed it with his left hand. “Well, it’s been going for sometime, whatever it is. Too late to do anything about it, wouldn’t you agree?” Who was he trying to convince? There was always a chance that something could be done. That a life might be saved that would otherwise be lost.
Yet something about the situation sat ill with him. Running into rescue someone - it wasn’t his style. Sure, he might throw them into a fight if there was a reason, such as he’d been paid, or he knew someone involved in the fight, or it seemed like a good idea at the time or… Fine, he’d done it before, yet this time something felt wrong. He was no coward, never had been one to run from a fight, yet his instincts pulled him in two directions, each side warring with the other for control.
“Aye, Captain.” His friend spoke softly, his tone formal and detached, lacking the warmth and undercurrent of friendship that normally existed between them. “Most likely you’re right and it’s all over and done with, save for the shouting. Wouldn’t do us any good to go rushing into a mess that’s non of our concern. Better to stay away from it all.”
Cluiun scowled, not liking the formality. Odd, he should have become used to it by now, whenever there was a chance that one of the crew might over here, Joran would err on the side of caution, but there was more to it than the crew hearing them. He glanced at Joran and then back at the shoreline, taking a moment to form his words. “They can’t hear you, not up here at least.”
“When we’re at sea you’re the Captain, or Cluiun. You can bug me about calling you Cormac when we’re in port.” Joran shrugged, his voice pitched low. “That’s the way its supposed to be so that’s the way it will always be. Discipline must be maintained. Just as the choice to investigate what’s happening on the shore is yours and yours alone. You have my support, even if my own opinion differs from yours.”
Discipline. They weren’t part of anyone's navy, nor would they ever be, and yet the ship was run with the same iron hand. No voting on a captain or quartermaster. No dividing the spoils unless the Captain said so. Most of what the ship collected was used for her maintenance, and weapons were provided by the ship and her Captain, not brought on board by men - and occasionally women - who served on board.
He smiled at the thought, his gaze fixed on the coast. His choice. In that, Joran was right. He might speak to his old friend, digging into his thoughts in order to have a better understanding of the situation, but as Captain he made the final decision.
“Why do you think they stay?” He nodded toward the crew without taking his gaze away from the smoke. He didn’t want to discuss the fire and what might be going on there. The more attention he paid it, the greater the chance that he would be pulled into the mess, yet still the niggling itch at the back of his neck continued to grow. “They don’t have the same rights as they would with a true independent ship.”
“You mean pirate.” Joran chuckled and shook his head. “Say what you mean and mean what you say, Wolf.”
“Aye, something like that.” Wolf, the name suited him, though he’d fought it for years. He didn’t look over at his old friend. Joran had been with him for years. No, truth be told they’d been friends together, grown up in the same village until the day they’d both made the choice to leave.
Choice, some choice. Stay and follow the path they picked out for me, or leave and follow mine own.
There had been something else though, a push he hadn’t been able to identify. He’d woken without reason in the middle of the night, knowing that he had to leave. That any and all doubts he’d had about his choice had now died. Cluiun shook his head and allowed his focus to return to the source of the smoke.
The order was on the tip of his tongue but he swallowed it back. He couldn’t, wouldn’t put his crew at risk for - for what? A fire that marked the end of something, not the beginning? Crew that was all ready dead, or held captive? To dive into a fight that wasn’t his to deal with?
The coast was normally safe enough. The nearest village along the coast was easily fifty miles away, though there were villages inland from what he could remember. Not a place he’d visited but there had been mentions of it. Farmers, orchards, hunters, a castle or two. Small noble families who relied upon the farms in the surrounding area and the fishermen and women who supplied poor and noble alike.
The fire would draw people in from the farms. Riders would be raised from the nearest noble home, armed men and women sent to investigate, another reason why it was likely a matter that he should leave well alone.
Another curl of smoke, dark mixed with light, reached up toward the sky, adding a fresh wave of inky blackness to the sky.
They could find a safe place to anchor for the night and then, come the morning, investigate the remains of the fire. There was no reason why they needed to anchor for the night, the sky offered no hint of a storm, nor were there any other signs of danger that might send them inland for safety.
They needed to find a port. In truth, it had been too long since they had headed for a safe port, well a port that would welcome the arrival of the Cluiun and his crew. More often than not civilized towns turned them away, some nonsense about them being pirates. Or at least a crew with a less than civilized reputation. Not a fair assessment, they’d never attacked a town along this coastline, or any within several days sail. The same couldn’t be said of the ships that made their way out to sea, they were fair game as was the nature of his work, but the actual ports themselves. No, only a fool would attack them without just cause.
Whatever the cause of the fire, it wasn’t his concern yet his gaze kept returning to the plume.
“That fire’s too big to be a camp fire, or even several camp fires.” Joran returned to lean against the railing. “The color of the smoke is wrong as well, that’s wood that’s been treated with tar.”
Which meant a boat or, more likely given the amount of smoke, a ship - a real ship, not a fishing vessel. “Indeed.”
“Do we take a look? Or are you set on moving on. As I said before, Captain, the choice is yours and we’ll abide by it.”
Cluiun frowned. Something tugged at him, a push to direct his ship to head for land, but what good would it do? Yet the pressure remained. If there was a ship that had been beached and now set on fire, then there was nothing he could do about it. The smoke made it clear that it was all ready too late to help the ship and its crew.
If there’s anyone left alive. Which there won’t be. Whoever was behind that attack would have finished them all off - and he was making excuses again. Ones that didn’t sit well with him.
It wasn’t his concern. “No, we’re due at Ravensbluff before the end of the week,” he turned his back on the smoke. “Not our circus, not our monkeys.” Turn back, look at the smoke, find out what’s going on. No, better to ignore it and focus on his own crew, their next job and the next one after that.
“Aye, Captain.” Joran straightened and made his way down to the main deck. “Get those ropes stowed away!”
A dozen men moved at the order. This was his crew, men who had served with him before he took command of the ship, and men who would continue to serve with him unless they were killed or sought a berth elsewhere for whatever reason. He trusted them, they trusted him and that meant not making foolish mistakes like ordering them into potential danger for a ship and crew they didn’t know.
Pirates, raiders, whatever was behind the smoke on the beach, it wasn’t his concern. Nothing he would risk them for.
Yet the pull remained. An invisible thread that connected him to the shoreline.
This time he knew that the voice hadn’t come from him. It vibrated through him, tugging, pushing for him to turn and investigate.
Turn and look. This is why you are here.
He shuddered and walked to the top of the steps that led down onto the deck, his voice ringing out clear enough to be heard by the majority of his crew. “Head for shore.”
“Captain?” Joran turned, frowning only to nod. “Aye, aye, Captain.” He moved sharply through the gathered men. “You heard the Captain. Get this scow turned. We head for the shore! Ready the dingy’s, we need two prepped, crew armed for trouble.” He pushed one man away from the bucket he was sat by. “Up and at ‘em!”
Cluiun closed his eyes. It wasn’t the first time he’d felt the presence behind that voice, but it was the first time it had spoken directly to him.
I don’t know who or what you are, but you better have a damn good reason for putting my crew at risk.
You are needed as witness.
Witness, this was all about seeing something? He scowled but didn’t countermand the order he’d given. If he ever met the source of that voice - well, he’d explain, in detail, how little he enjoyed being pushed around.
I know, why do you think I chose you.
Chose… no, he didn’t want to think about that. He’d had enough of people trying to plan his life for him, no way in the seven hells was he going to let some vague voice try take control of his life now.
The voice remained, thankfully, silent.
Maybe he was going mad? Had he been out in the sun too long? Sure, yeah, that made sense. Well, it didn’t matter now. The decision was made and changing it would sit ill with the crew. A Captain had to appear to be in control no matter what happened, even if he regretted the decision down the line. Make it. Stick to it. Deal with the consequences and the gods be damned.
“Dim the ship lights, they might not have seen us yet.”
With the blazing light of the fire there was a chance, however slim, that any attackers would be focused on the blaze and anything they’d stolen from the wreck. Dimming the lights decreased the risks for the crew and with the men taking soundings as they approached the shore, they would remain safe unless one of the men made a mistake.
Which is why he routinely had three men on either side of the ship, and two off the prow, taking readings. One man might make a mistake, multiple men reduced the odds in their favor. Something he’d learned the hard way before he’d become a captain in his own right. That ship had run aground, but at least Cluiun, and Joran, had been shown the wrong way to handle such situations. Lions, the Captain they had both served, had died during that incident, and some of the crew had then gone on to sign on with Cluiun - perhaps because his swift actions had reduced the amount of deaths, but he’d never taken the time to ask.
Nor would he ever.
Cluiun, despite his misgivings, moved back to the railing and watched as they drew closer to the shoreline and the fire. Night had all but claimed the sky, leaving the fire on the shore as the only true source of light. A guiding beacon that beckoned them inland for good or ill…
TBC next week.