A good hour later, under Tonks Wilkerson’s skilled hand, the Griffin drifted casually alongside a black wooden pier. While the ship slowed to a snail’s crawl, stout ropes were tossed from the schooner to waiting dock-hands. Quickly, the mooring lines were tied to the nearby large steel cleat horns, securing the Brass Griffin against drifting.
The long, weathered gangplank was pulled out from storage and slowly lowered down until one end rested against the wooden planks of the pier. In short order, both ends were tied off, making it secure to use.
Moira was immediately down the gangplank with the first batch of crew. Once on the dock, she stopped, looking around, caught up in her thoughts and memories. The pier was crowded with the usual eclectic collection of stray items: coils of rope, stacks of large crates – each easily three feet on a side – precariously sitting near the edge of the pier, awaiting their owner.
Past the pier and its crates were the brightly colored, striped awnings and banners that hung outside the nearby shops. The shops themselves – intended for patrons from incoming ships, its passengers and crew – comprised only a portion of the buildings that made up the outer edge of the station’s boardwalk. Buildings not obviously marked with a shingle or a sign were often storehouses, either for rent or for the inhabitants of the station itself.
Between the buildings along the boardwalk, through narrow alleyways thick with rapidly cooling gusts of steam, and on the wider main avenues, people of all kinds hurried along their way. Men, orcs, elves and even scaled charybdians made their home here among the chilly winds above the North Sea. Sounds of voices from many different cultures mingled, and everywhere the faint smell of methane mingled with the scent of livestock, stale fish, and wet wood left in the sun to dry.
A broad-shouldered deck hand in a dark woolen coat, loose white shirt and brown cotton pants nodded a wordless greeting to Moira as he sidestepped past her carrying a stack of wooden planks. He was a charybdian, given his yellow eyes, delicate scale pattern, and shoulder-length snake-like tendrils that passed for their ‘hair’.
“Pardon,” Moira said, stepping to one side, next to a stack of crates. Suddenly, a sharp squawk of irritation brought her eye to eye with a glaring Iceland gull.
“An’ what’s yer problem?” Moira asked tartly of the bird. The bird just snapped its bill once, then extended its wings as if to stretch. The blacksmith snorted derisively and resumed looking around.
“Something awry, Miss Wycliffe?” Captain Hunter asked, a few paces behind her.
Moira smiled, glancing around her again, “not a thing. Just been awhile, Cap’n.” Then, as if she noticed something, she squinted at the scenery with a frown, as if trying to remember.
The captain looked around the activity on the docks, trying to spot what Moira felt was out of place. Finally, he gave up, tugging at his coat against the chill wind blowing crosswise along the pier. He then walked over to join her with Krumer.
“Whatever it is, I’m certain it’ll come to you,” Anthony replied.
Moira finally shrugged, “I think they’ve added a buildin’ or two, I guess.” She said with a quick glance to the captain, “don’ matter. Once we check in with the dock master, I can be showin’ ya the way to down-below. Really not all that hard to find, once ya know the way.”
“Well, by all means, lead on,” Krumer said with a smirk.
The young woman turned on her heel, deftly walking around a pair of sailors carrying a large crate, with Anthony and Krumer Whitehorse in tow. Nearby, two wool-clad dock hands worked diligently, unloading crates and boxes into ordered stacks. Far to their right, a group of shipwrights hammered methodically at repairs to another ship. Hunter’s eyes drifted along tirelessly, searching the knots of people as they walked along.
Krumer noticed the captain’s wary glances. “What is it, Captain?”
“Nothing I can put my finger on. Nerves, most likely,” Anthony replied. “Just not quite comfortable with our little role yet. I’ll be fine.”
Just then, a sailor lounging on a nearby barrel got to his feet. He was a thin, rat-faced man, in worn leather boots, ragged trousers, threadbare peacoat, and stained white shirt in dire need of mending. At his waist a pistol and a long knife were thrust into his belt.
The sailor motioned to four others that were dressed similarly, one of which was a burly orc, an elaborate tattoo of knotwork covering what could be seen of his neck past a drover oilskin coat and stained cotton shirt.
With a nasty, grunting chuckle, the orc reflexively checked for the knife in his belt. One of his friends rested a hand on the butt of a pistol jammed into a waistband. All four had been loitering near their ringleader, as if they had been waiting for an appointment. Slowly, they sauntered out into the path of the Brass Griffin’s crew.
“Cap’n,” Moira said in a warning tone.
“I see them,” Hunter replied calmly. “No sudden moves, not till we know what they want.” The captain, Moira, and Krumer came to a stop a few short paces away from the sailors. Moira stood tense, like a tightly wound spring, slowly flexing her hands. Krumer slowly wiped his palms on his cotton shirt and wool coat, then hooked this thumbs into his gun belt, giving the knot of men ahead of them a cagey stare.
“Top o’ the day, Guv’,” the sailor said with a gap-toothed grin. “If ye and yours don’t mind me sayin’, would that be the Brass Griffin ye just left?”
Captain Hunter nodded, “It would indeed. Why do you ask?”
The sailor glanced around at his companions, scratching the gray-brown stubble on his chin. “Oh, see, me mates and I be out lookin’ for such a ship.”
“Ah, well, we’re not looking to take on new crew,” Hunter replied pleasantly.
The sailor laughed with an ugly snort, “‘New crew’ he says. No, Guv’, nothing like that. See, way we heard it, British navy’s lookin’ for the Brass Griffin. Somethin’ about piracy. I tell this lot here, that might mean a bounty. Especially for bringin’ in the captain himself. Are ye the captain? What with ye fine coat, an boots and all?”
Moira’s hands subtly drifted over and rested on the butt end of her pistols. Hunter noticed the movement out of the corner of his eye, “Well, I would be the captain. I’m Captain Anthony Hunter, and these are two of my crew. Though, I must ask you to leave us to be on our way. We’ve no wish for trouble with you.”
The sailor wiped his nose, “well, good meetin’ ya then, Cap’n. An … ye see, we can’t just do that.” He waved his right hand behind him at his companions. “To me mates here, that message ’twas clear enough. Ye’re wanted by the navy. That means a nice pinch o’ money. Money we’d all like a share of. Ye crew? They be bonus change. Now we can do this the easy way,” the grimy man’s look turned ugly, a dark smile crossing his face while he licked his lips, “or the hard way.”
Hunter lowered a hand to his waist, where his own well-oiled pistol rested in its holster. “I won’t warn you again. Let us be on our way. You will want none of our troubles.”
The sailor shrugged in mock agreement, giving a wink to his companions, “oh well, since ye put it all nice and luverly like that, Cap’n, I guess we’ll go with ‘easy’.” Immediately, his hand flashed to his pistol in a blur. However, the moment the sailor drew and leveled his gun, his eyes widened in surprise at seeing Moira’s pistols already drawn, aimed and stabbing flame.
Gunfire roared and smoke belched across the short distance. The sailor fired once, then twice. The first whipped past Anthony, tugging sharply at a sleeve. Another exploded wood at Moira’s feet, ripping a furrow into the planks. Moira’s shots, however, were true, slamming into the man’s gun arm, shattering bone and ripping the gun from his fingers.
Hunter, who had drawn his own pistol, fired at one of the other sailors, but missed in his haste. Krumer likewise ripped his gun free of its holster and fired, only with better aim. One of the sailors spun around, then dropped to the deck like a marionette whose strings had been cut. The first mate turned to fire at another of the attackers, but his second shot went wide.
In a mad rush, the remaining three sailors charged in close, knives at the ready. Hunter dodged left, then right, avoiding the slashing blades, only to take a strong punch to the jaw. Eyes watering, he staggered away from a knife that flashed dangerously nearby. With the captain temporarily blinded by pain, the orc lunged forward with a sneer, eager to plunge his blade into Hunter’s chest.
However, before the sailor’s knife cut cloth or skin, Hunter slammed the barrel of his pistol across the burly orc’s jaw. Bone cracked with a sickening crunch, and the sailor howled in pain, falling to his knees. Spitting out a tooth, he shot an ugly glare at Hunter.
Suddenly, a roar of noise exploded behind the group, followed by the acrid stench of burnt gunpowder. Immediately, the combatants separated, bloodied and stunned, and the fight abruptly stopped.
“Genug!” A deep German voice cut through the cold air like a lion’s roar. “That is quite enough!”
The newcomer was built like a mountain, several inches over six feet with broad shoulders, a barrel chest and a wide, reddish-blonde beard shot through with streaks of gray. Unlike the gang of sailors, he was dressed in a clean linen shirt, black trousers and weathered, well-made. A long blue coat hung from his stout figure, and beneath that hung a brace of pistols on a sturdy leather belt. The explosion had been from the still-smoking hammerless shotgun he was now handing to a thin, wiry man by his side.
“Ain’t your affair, Wilhelm!” The original sailor snarled from where he knelt, his wounded arm dripping blood to the weathered deck.
“That’s ‘Captain Wilhelm’ to you, rat!” The thin man next to Wilhelm snapped back at the injured sailor.
Wilhelm laughed, a deep belly laugh full of dangerous promise that echoed in the air, “Oh, is that so, Herr Packer? I think not! It was you and your rats that sent three of my crew to a doctor. This will not happen again! Go! Or I will not aim so high next time I shoot!”
Picking up their wounded members, the gang staggered off. Packer, the outspoken sailor of the gang, shook his fist at the big man and then at the crew of the Griffin. “Mark me! I’ll be seein’ each of ye! Every one!”
Krumer watched the gang retreat warily, keeping his pistol ready. “I’ll be sure to set out the tea.”
Captain Hunter turned to greet the newcomers, keeping his pistol lowered but drawn and ready. “You’ve my gratitude, sirrah. I’m …”
Wilhelm held up a hand to interrupt with a broad grin spreading over his bearded face. “Nein, nein. I know just who you are, Kapitän Hunter.”
Hunter sighed, “ah, the message from the Intrepid.”
Wilhlem laughed again. This time, the thin man in the white cotton shirt and knee-length trousers next to him laughed as well.
Moira, who had been watching the gang retreat like a hawk watches a rabbit, finally dropped her guns into their holsters as the cutthroats vanished around a corner. Racing over, she gave the big man a warm, bear-like hug and a wide grin.
Krumer shot Hunter a confused glance. Confused as well, Hunter started to speak, but found he was at a loss for words.
“Ja, kapitän. Like most here at Port Signal, I have heard the message about you and your ship,” Wilhelm explained, then raised a finger with a wink. “Ah, but, that is not what I mean. Moira’s letters were clear in describing you … and you Herr Whitehorse. You see, I am Kapitän Klaus Wilhelm. Some call me a smuggler, others call me pirate, Moira? She calls me ‘uncle’.” Captain Wilhelm said with another wide grin. “As for you, kapitän, I hope you can call me ‘friend’. You see, from as I understand it, you and your crew need such a thing quite badly.”