A Chance Meeting
by Dana DeVries

   Captain Cosette stared into the dense jungles before her. At her back, Brennen and Jacob Faust helped Ben Richards pull the launch up onto the sandy shore. Strange insects serenaded her and birds called from deeper inland but nothing threatened her party. She nodded slowly, turned around and waved one arm into the air at her ship, the Discovery. Two flashes from a mirror told her they had seen the signal and would wait for her. Her men fell in around her and the small party approached the mouth of the small river that penetrated the interior of the island.

   Brennan and Jacob began speaking a quiet tones behind them so Ben turned to Cosette and staggered slightly. He was a tall, thin Avalon with deeply tanned skin and hair so pale it was almost white. Despite the breeze off of the ocean, he had already broken into a sweat. Despite that, his face appeared youthful with a gleam of mischief. She looked at him with concern and asked, "Are you alright?"

   "Sure, I'm fine. I'm just not used to being on solid ground. It doesn't roll right. I'll be fine in a few minutes."

   "I've heard some of the older sailors complain about that. How long have you been at sea?" As they continued on, the trees pressing in around them cut off the light until they were striding through dusk. Cut off from the shore, the temperature quickly rose until they all felt slightly lightheaded.

   "Almost 30 years. I started out as a cabin boy in the merchant trade. When Elaine offered to make anyone a privateer, I jumped at the chance. Been sailing with the Sea Dogs ever since."

   Cosette wondered silently for a moment as they continued down the path away from the river towards the island's village. Then she asked, "If you've sailed with them that long, why sign on with us?" Before Ben could respond a high-pitched scream echoed through the dense trees around them. He looked around quickly, scanning the thick boles and dark bushes, but saw nothing. Cosette smiled, "It's a Kobar bird. Loud, but no bigger than your hand. No threat at all."

   "That's why I joined the Explorers. With the Sea Dogs, I've been to every corner around Theah. I've seen Numan ruins, Castillian ports, Ussuran coves and Montaigne ladies. But I've never been west. I wanted to see what was there, the mysteries of the Midnight Archipelago and everything else out here."

   Cosette grinned broadly. "Well, you're in luck. We're sure to find something extraordinary out this far. I can't wait to see it either. Of course, first we have to get past all these islands we've already visited. But I doubt you've seen anything like the villagers here. They're really quite peaceful and generous. A handful of trinkets was enough to fully supply our ship the last night I was here. And the women are something to behold. Their ears are almost as large as the rest of their head with an enormous hole in the lobe. Its big enough that you could easily put your hand right through the centre of it. Just don't say anything about them being pretty."


   "If you admire an man's unmarried daughter, he will often insist that you marry her on the spot. That's how generous they..."

   Without warning, a spear pierced the tree next to them. The four Explorers looked at it for an instant and then leaped into the undergrowth, looking for cover as another six spears flashed through the dim light and into the soil where they had been standing. Ben stage-whispered over to Cosette, "I thought you said they were friendly."

   She replied in a normal tone. "They usually are." A half dozen spears immediately arched through the air towards her voice. As they flew into the thicket of bushes she hid within, a high pitched scream echoed through the jungle. As the last spear hit, she rolled out of the bushes and came to her feet running. Yelling at the top of her lungs, she charged towards the area from which the spears had come. Brennen and Jacob Faust fired pistols ahead of her while Ben Richards raced after her. The spearmen dropped to the ground at the firearms' report and Cosette leapt into the middle of the spearmen before they could recover. She and Ben Richards easily kept the natives cowering while Brennan and Jacob grabbed vines and joined them. The natives were quickly trussed up and the Explorers turned to Cosette to examine her injuries.

   Jacob was the first to ask, "Are you alright?"

   "Yes. I'm fine. It's not blood." Cosette replied as she looked at her arms. Thick orange fluid and white feathers covered her arms, hair and shirt. Despite the seriousness of the situation, none of them could keep grins off their faces. Ben was the one to ask, "What is that stuff?"

   The captain's response was filled with disgust. "One of the spears broke open some sort of fruit above me and this...juice fell on me."

   Cosette tried to wipe it off, but the sticky substance refused to come off. "Just find out why they attacked us, Jacob. I'll be right back."

   Jacob Faust knelt beside one of the natives and uttered a phrase with more guttural stops than vowels . The bound man shook his head and responded in the same language. While they spoke, Cosette stalked off through the jungle towards the river. When Ben and Brennan moved to follow, she waved them back. "I'm going to scrub this off, boys. I don't need any company." Brennan nodded while Ben seemed torn between blushing and leering.

   The Explorer captain easily pushed through the underbrush, slapping at mosquitoes for several hundred yards until she came to the river. Slow water swirled by muddily while a cloud of tiny gnats swarmed above. They quickly approached her, but the sickly sweet smell that clung to her drove them off. Dipping her hands into the water, she rubbed then strongly together until the orange gunk and feathers began to come off. Cosette smiled and quickly shed her shirt. A long low whistle came from across the river. She looked up in alarm and saw a tall blonde man with a beard and dressed in tailored silk and leather watching her with appreciation. In the blink of an eye, she covered her chest with the juice-stained shirt, but he had already leapt into the river, landing lightly on a jutting rock. The man's balance was superb as he hopped from rock to rock across the river.

   When he stood beside her, he swept into a deep bow. "Good afternoon, my lady. Allow me to introduce myself..."

   "No need, good sir. Every woman has heard of the infamous Jeremiah Berek. Privateer, adventurer and all around good for nothing."

   Berek drew back at her light hearted comment. "I've heard of you as well. Captain Cosette, leader of the Explorers heading West. Good for nothing? Surely you must have heard wrong. Many a fine lady has availed herself of my...talents."

   In a formal voice with laughter lurking in her eyes, Cosette replied. "Luckily I am no lady and thus have no need of your talents, sir."

   Berek mused. "But your beauty is that of the most precious flower. I just wish to tend you. Especially since you have the appearance of a flightless bird with all those feathers about you. I've always had a soft spot for birds."

   "Flowers and birds? I had no idea you were interested in discuss flora and fauna."

   Berek suddenly went rigid as he stared past her. "I'm very interested in fauna right now. Rather large, hairy hostile fauna."

   Cosette glanced over her shoulder and caught a glimpse of something large and furry charging straight towards her. Before she could do anything about it, Berek collided with her and the two tumbled into the river with a loud splash. The river was almost up to her armpits and pleasantly warm, but Cosette came up spluttering. Turning back to the shore, she saw a boar roaring at the edge of the water.

   Berek quietly remarked, "I don't suppose you have a firearm?"

   "Yes. I do. On my belt."

   Berek glanced down into the water and grimaced. "Well, wait right here."

   "I'm not one of your helpless damsels in distress."

   "Certainly not. Of course, there goes your shirt." Berek pointed downstream at the shirt disappearing around the bend.

   Cosette took a breath and smiled, "It won't bother me." Now it was Berek who sputtered for a moment until the boar roared again. Its tusks swung side to side as it peered towards them with beady red eyes. "We could just wait. My men will probably come to rescue me soon."

   "I thought you didn't need any rescuing?"

   "It's at least a plan. Do you have one?"

   "Certainly." Berek drew out a bulky sheathed pistol from beneath the water. He unsealed the flap and drew out the dry pistol from within. "Dry powder is too useful to leave to chance." A grappling hook protruded from the pistol's bore. "But it's not really very good against boars." Cosette gestured imperiously for the pistol and Berek handed it over with an amused look on his face. She looked the grappling hook over carefully and the area over carefully, calculating angles and trajectories. Finally, with a grin, she raised the pistol straight up and fired. The hook flew up into the air, far past the branch, before slowing and plunging back towards the ground. She followed the hook with her eyes as it plummeted until it struck the boar in the small of the back. The creature roared again and twirled around, looking for what had attacked it. Seeing nothing except the rope, it launched itself at the rope, trying to stab it with its tusks.

   Cosette turned to Berek and stated, "That should take care of it." He nodded in agreement. "So what brings you out this way?"

   He grinned. "The usual. Plundering the enemies of Avalon and making sure that our wondrous queen gets her share of the booty." The two captains watched with interest as the thing swung its tusks at the hanging rope. The rope gave no resistance, simply looping around the tusk.

   "Found anyone to pillage yet?"

   "Now, now. First you plunder, then you pillage. If you get the order wrong, everything falls apart in chaos."

   "I see."

   "We have found one or two small fry. Still looking for a really plump chicken to pluck."

   "Again with the bird references. I think you're obsessing. Do you prefer white or dark meat?"

   "I prefer white meat, always been a breast man."

   Within moments, the boar had tangled itself upon the grappling hook. As one, the two captains took a hold of the grappling gun's line and pull it back to the far side of the river. The rope didn't even strain as it lifted the boar off the ground. They tied the rope to a tree and then crossed the river again, skirting the area the boar still struggled in.

   "Cosette?" Brennan's call wasn't loud, but it was coming fairly close.

   "Those would be my men." Looking down, Cosette realized that most of the juice had come off in her repeated dunkings in the water, but she was still naked from the waist up.

   Before she could say anything more, Berek drew his own silk shirt over his head and handed it to her. She opened her mouth to thank him and he crushed her to him. Cosette breasts pressed up again his bare wet chest and something seemed to ignite in her chest. His lips hungrily sought hers and he passionately kissed her. As he broke away, he whispered, "We will meet again, little bird." Then he dove into the river and disappeared into the jungle on the far side.

   When Brennan appeared several minutes later, Berek was gone and his shirt hung somewhat loosely around Cosette. The Explorer quartermaster called over his shoulder, "She's here." Jacob Faust and Ben Richards appeared after another moment. "Captain, you're alright? I'm glad we found you. Those natives said that someone had warned them about our arrival. Told them all kinds of fantastic stories about how we ate human flesh and were looking for slaves. Seems you were the worst offender. When they saw you coming down the path, it spooked them enough to make them ambush us." Cosette sharply asked, "Who warned them?"

   "They didn't know his name. Just said he was a tall blonde man with a beard."

   Cosette shook her head harshly and began to swear under her breath. Her cheek still stung slightly from the touch of Berek's whiskers. Ben quietly asked, "That shirt. It's monogrammed with Berek's initials. It wasn't him, was it?"

   "Yes. It was." Cossette's voice was icy. "Where does your loyalty lie, Richards?"

   "With my captain. You."

   "Alright. If he's turned the village against us, we're not going to get any supplies here. Let's get out of here. And if we see Berek again...well, we'll deal with him appropriately."