The Return
by Dana DeVries

   The faintly glowing spires of the ship thrust solidly up into the air despite their thinness while two men swung from spar to spar like enraged monkeys. The sky was slightly overcast and hot without a breeze to cool it down. Dull gray waves lapped at the ship's side while a dense bank of fog to starboard hid land from sight. The older of them finally raised his hand and gestured the other one over. "Well, any luck?"

   The other man shook his head.

   "Me neither, Phelan. What in blue blazes is powering this ship? No sails, no engines, nothing. I'd thought maybe the sails were just kinda invisible. But there's nothing up here except that feeling you get just before lightning strikes. So what's moving it?" Long Tall Harry stared down sullenly at the dome of panels made of light and the spires of smooth metal. The thing baffled his logical mind.

   Beneath them, one of the glowing iridescent panes winked out. The two men exchanged glances and began working their way down towards the opening. A beautiful woman wearing a tight white silk shirt and a wide brimmed hat stood where the pane of light had been and stared into the fog bank. As the two men dropped down beside her, she quietly said, "There's a ship out there."

   "In the fog?"

   "Yes. A Vendel galleon."

   "Wonder what she's doing so close to Castille? This close to a war zone, she's sure to be touchy. Probably fire at anything that moves. Good thing we're going around them."

   "No." As she spoke, the topmen felt the ship shift beneath their feet. "We're going to capture it."

   "Celedoine." Long Tall Harry grabbed her arm and turned her to face him. The look of anger and strength upon her face forced him to let go and take a step back. He floundered for a moment and then forced himself to speak. "We're fast, but we have no teeth! There are no cannons on this ship and they'll have us outnumbered ten to one."

   She laughed warmly, "Oh, we'll have teeth enough. Take off your coat Harry." Puzzled, he looked at her for a moment and then shrugged out of his longcoat. Celedoine took it in her hands and ran it through her fingers for a moment. She seemed to hesitate over the sewn rips and tears it had acquired over the years. When she handed it back to him, it overflowed his hands and the tears seemed larger. As he stared at it, the coat seemed to writhe and twist in his hands, boiling over onto the deck. Harry tried to pick it all up and discovered that the holes were growing even faster. Within seconds, his coat was gone and in its place, Harry held a fishing net.

   Harry scowled and angrily demanded. "What did you do to my coat?!" The other topman rubbed his hand across his chin in an effort to hide a smile.

   Celedoine placed a hand on his shoulder and spoke quietly. "Calm down, Harry. Your coat will be fine. I'm just borrowing it. Now cast it onto the waters and gather as many fish as you can. I'm going to need them."

   Disgruntled, Harry turned towards the sea and asked over his shoulder, "What does Berek think of all this?"

   "He's still sleeping off last night's revelry."

   "Don't you think we should wake him up?"

   "Why? He wasn't there when Bonnie faced Reis. He wasn't there to deal with his friend Lyin' John trying to kill Nicole. He wasn't around when we needed him and we don't need him now." The ice in her voice froze the objections in his throat. He nodded as she moved past him and went below.

   Harry picked up the fishing net in both hands and expertly threw it overboard where the weighted ends quickly disappeared beneath the waves. Harry kept a firm grip of the trailing edge and motioned the other topmen to help him. They began pulling up handfuls of netting easily. "Don't see what she's thinking. This net isn't big enough to get deep enough to catch any fish." As the two men slowly pulled up the net, foot after foot of drenched netting came up, each one harder than the last. They struggled with the last few yards until several other Sea Dogs came on deck and gave them a hand. They hauled the net aboard and dumped a large pile of fish onto the slick deck. As the men threw the net back into the water, Harry stared at the pile in disbelief and muttered to himself, "I've never seen anything like that." He kept muttering as another load followed. And another.

   When the pile of fish was as tall as Harry's head, Jimmy Bass and his gun crew rolled several empty barrels up on deck. With the topmen's help, they lowered them over the side and filled them with salt water. Jimmy turned to Harry and asked "What's Celedoine got under her hat this time?"

   Harry just shrugged. "I hadn't even noticed she was wearing a hat." The men all laughed for a moment until the sound of a throat clearing came from the opening leading down below. The group slowly looked over their shoulder and Celedoine stood grinning in the doorway.

   "We're almost ready, boys. Nicole will be bringing us into the fog in a few minutes. "She strode over to the pile of fish and stared at it for a moment. "Hey, lads. Were the fish heavy? Because looks like you caught more than just dinner." Reaching into the pile, Celedoine brushed aside some of the fish and steel gleamed from within. "Give me a hand with this, Harry." The grizzled topman helped her clear away more of the fish until the forms of two 12 pound cannons stood upon the deck. When she was done, only a few fish remained on the deck scattered around the two guns and a stack of cannonballs, chauks, rope and tackle.

   Jimmy Bass shook his head in amazement and interrupted the stunned silence onboard. "I don't know how you did it, but can you magic up some gunpowder too?" Celedoine just dropped the lids onto the two barrels of seawater and tapped the gently. Jimmy's eyes narrowed and he reached out slowly for the first barrel. He lifted the lid and dropped it as if it had bit him. When the lid hit the deck, everyone pressed in close to stare at the grainy black powder filling the barrel. For a moment, no one said anything. Then the sound of a cannon firing echoed across the water. Jimmy took a deep breath and called out. "Sounds like someone's already started the music and it's going to take a few minutes to get us dressed for it. Minutes we're running short on. So move!"

   The crew exploded into action, every man helping to push the cannons into position on the port side and rigging up the tackle to absorb the recoil of the cannons. Celedoine stepped back by the opening leading into the ship and smiled. She whirled around as a deep voice quietly said her name. Jeremiah Berek stood in the opening and smiled towards his men. Without turning, he spoke quietly so that no one else could hear. "What are you up to?"

   Celedoine openly glared at him and coldly stated. "This doesn't concern you."

   He looked at her with a smile that didn't reach his eyes. "I know that you blame me for Bonnie's death. She chose her own path and accepted the price she had to pay. But if you want to hold me responsible, that's your right. You were holding them together just fine before I picked you up. Not easy to do while abandoning ship under heavy fire. But I'm still the captain of this ship. I'm still the commander of the Sea Dogs. These men are looking to me to keep them alive. So again, I ask what are you up to?"

   Celedoine grimaced and spoke through clenched teeth. "There's a galleon out there. She's flying a stolen set of sheets. I mean to get them back."

   Berek's eyes narrowed at her vehence over a set of sails, but he calmly asked. "Who are they firing at?"

   "They're the ones being fired at and by a very familiar ship. The Black Dawn is out there. They don't know we're here yet."

   A smile crossed Berek's face for a moment. "Do you know who's captaining it?"

   "Tyler Jones was going to take command when it got out of drydock."

   "He's a good man. But even with surprise, two frigates against a galleon are not good odds. Especially with us only carrying two guns." He paused and considered the situation. "But we didn't even have those guns a few minutes ago and we've been in worse. This is the most excited I've seen the men since we left Cabora. They needed this. Have the men load grapeshot and aim low for the first volley. I assume you have some way to see through this fog?" Celedoine nodded. "Alright. We'll need to get close to the galleon for the first shot but that should ensure that we don't accidentally shoot our flagship. Bring us up alongside her and heading just aft of her before we fire. We fire one volley onto her broadside and then pull in behind her where her guns won't reach. That should really take the wind out of her sails. I'm going to head below and take the tiller. I've had a little more practice with it than Nicole." As he entered the opening leading below, he turned back and said. "You're a good leader, Celedoine. Don't let your anger at me distract you."

   For a long moment, she stared into his eyes. The memory of the days when he'd loved her, the days when he'd faced death and somehow survived, the days when he'd regained his confidence and his life, all of this and more filled his eyes. She turned away from those eyes and the confusion they raised in her as he went below. The confusion dropped away as she concentrated on a quiet buzzing near her ear. She felt butterfly wings fluttering against her neck, but she didn't look at it and the sprite quickly went away when she motioned Paul Norman over. He was a young swab that had joined up when they dropped off Allende. He still seemed unsure of himself but he was quick and she soon had him running for the tiller with a course adjustment. Jimmy motioned that he was ready with his two guns and she nodded. The ship smoothly slipped into the fog bank to the sound of distant muffled cannonfire.

   The fog pushed in close in a dull white haze that blanked out all sight beyond a couple feet. Within minutes, the cannons were loaded and the crew waited for some sign of the enemy. Time seemed to pass slowly as the ship moved forward through the dense white carpet of mist. An occasional cannonshot could be heard but the fog distorted its direction beyond use. Celedoine would occasionally send a crewman down to the tiller with course corrections. When the tension on the ship was almost beyond endurance, she walked over to the cannons.

   Whispering to Jimmy, she pointed into the fog. He nodded and turned to his guns. Moments later the two guns belched fire and the gunners leapt into action, reloading the guns and preparing to fire again. Celedoine moved to the opening to the interior of the ship and began shouting instructions down. As the second volley blasted out, a strong wind gusted across the ship. The vapors began to disappear and the large shadow of a galleon appeared directly to port of the small Syrnath ship. Another ship on the far side of the galleon fired a volley of guns into the fore of it. The Syrnath ship danced across the waves staying just aft of the galleon to avoid her guns as the fog faded beneath the wind. The plaque with galleon's name was so close that the gunners could see the brush strokes of words "The Beast's Belly".

   "The Beast's Belly tried to tack away from her opponents, but the two Sea Dog ships stayed with her. Just as Jimmy and his crew fired again, the other frigate loomed out of the thinning mists. It fired a volley at point blank range into the galleon and swung around. Boarding ropes launched across the narrow distance between the two ships and the Black Dawn boarded her reluctant foe. Celedoine called orders down, but Berek had already tacked around and brought her in close to the galleon.

   As the Sea Dogs launched themselves at the galleon, Celedoine shouted out, "Don't damage the sails! I mean you, Phelan!" The Vendel mercenaries and sailors put up a fierce resistance and outnumbered the Avalons. The boarding was in doubt until Berek swung across to the galleon with a yell and fired a pistol into the Vendel captain's shoulder. The Vendel captain collapsed and Berek shouted out. "Surrender now, scurvy dogs. You're facing Jeremiah Berek and his Sea Dogs this day!" For one stunned moment everyone gaped at the legendary captain. Then the Black Dawn's sailors let out a huge "Huzzah!" Confronted with two ships of shouting Sea Dogs, the Vendels quickly surrendered.

   Tyler Jones, captain of the Black Dawn, rushed across, leapt from the forecastle towards Berek and embraced him in a bearhug. "Berek! You're back!"

   Berek stood from where the other man had knocked him down and smiled. "I'm back, Tyler. Thanks for the welcome."

   "Me? Thank you for the aid. I wasn't sure how much longer it was going to take me to finish off that galleon, your sudden appearance took care of it though. Is Bonnie with you too?"

   "No. She...she didn't make it."

   "Oh. I'm sorry. She was a good commander and a fine captain. Our victory over this behemoth would be complete with her here."

   "In Legion's name, why did you even take it on? I thought you'd given up on attacking ships three times larger than yourself?"

   "Didn't see a choice. We've been following reports of a ship that had managed to capture and imprison a sidhe. Seems they thought they could torture it into helping them. Well Their Queen asked Queen Elaine to deal with the situation before she had to personally. Queen Elaine was quite adamant that we not allow that to happen."

   "A sidhe? Where?"

   Tyler Jones pointed over his head at the sails fluttering lightly in the wind. As Berek stared upwards, the shadows on the flowing sheets seemed to form a distorted mockery of a face. From behind him, Celedoine's voice rang out clear and loud. "I don't know how they did it, but we'll keep it comfortable until we can release it and make sure it doesn't happen again."

   Tyler nodded. "Aye. But for now, let's celebrate. Ulfied, get rid of this fog! James, Walter, this ship's supposed to be carrying wine, go find it."

   The three officers smiled at each other while all around them the Sea Dogs roared their approval and the Vendel looked on in confusion.