The heat of the sun was unbearable; the afternoon air boiling, rippling off the sand, pelting him with waves of scorching air. He could have sworn the sun had it in for him. Could it not go and bug someone else, perhaps?
He rolled over, praying that some shelter would materialise above him. It didn’t. He rolled over again, then once more just in case. Suddenly a rush of cold water overwhelmed him, pushing him back and filling his nose with salty sand.
Makyron tried to pull himself up, but the wave withdrew and took him with it. The next wave was kind enough to thrust him back up the beach, and he managed to claw into the receding sands, coughing and spluttering as the water vanished from beneath him.
It took all the strength he had to climb to his feet and stumble back up to dry land. He patted himself off, sopping wet. He was still wearing his new suit, he noted; hopefully it hadn’t been ruined by the sea water. Well, it was still a lot better than everything else he owned. Besides, he had paid for it with a pair of dirty underwear, and a rusty old sword he had found.
The fool had been delighted at the trade. Makyron didn’t feel bad; the man had thought himself a hero, and had likely killed himself trying to climb the mountain. Goldryke caves? No one made it there. And they certainly never made it back.
Makyron took a few more steps up the beach towards his campsite, and began searching for something to drink. He found a bottle of something. Empty. There was another bottle a few feet away. Also empty. He frantically searched the camp for anything that wasn’t empty. There was nothing. Nothing at all.
Damn city watchmen must have stolen his stash – those two that had come through a couple days back. Searching for a shipwreck, they claimed. Ha; what a story. Robbing innocents of their precious few possessions, more like.
“Excuse me,” said a soft voice.
Makyron turned back to the sea, and saw a young woman sitting on a rock, batting her eyelashes at him. He was stunned, blown away by her beauty, and spent many moments in stupid silence looking her up and down, studying every curve in her suggestive pose. But, for all her good looks, there was something a little odd about her. Where her legs should have been, she had… a tail!
“You… you’re a mermaid?” queried Makyron, unconvinced despite his sight.
The girl looked herself up and down, then frowned back at him.
“Look, Makyron, I don’t know what you are into, but this is pretty weird. I mean, how do you even… where do you…? Yes, pretty weird.”
“Allow me to explain,” said the mermaid. “You drank two bottles of pure unfiltered alcohol, then passed out on the beach, and woke up in the scorching sun. You haven’t had any water, nor have you eaten in two days. Even ignoring all that, you aren’t exactly floating well above the sanity-line. The result: you are now hallucinating, and what’s more, you are having a conversation with your hallucination.”
“What?” he said, several feet under the load of confusion sprung upon him so early in the afternoon.
“There is a new tavern that recently opened up just a little way north of here along the coast. Why don’t you go get yourself a warm meal over there?”
“Remember? The city watchmen told you about it.”
Makyron scratched his head. He was having trouble thinking. His head was throbbing, and the sun was burning his puffy eyes. There was only one effective cure for such a hangover, and he didn’t have any to hand.
“Just follow the beach,” she said. “Keep going north until you see The Sharpened Bluntooth.”
The mermaid was gone, vanished into thin air, leaving Makyron blinking at the empty rock.
“Which way’s north?” he called after her, but there was no answer.
Makyron searched the camp once more, hoping against all odds that he would find alcohol and not need to resort to following the advice of a hallucination, or worse, a mermaid. But there was none to be found. Well, maybe it was time he moved on.
He began gathering up his worldly possessions, then promptly gave up when he remembered he was wearing most of them. He had nothing of value in the camp, nothing that anyone would bother to steal should they find it unattended – he’d already drunk it all.
With a grunt, he started wandering up the coast, only partly confident he knew where he was going. He couldn’t tell how long he had been walking, but he began to feel a little better. Perhaps it was the hangover subsiding, or maybe it was just the sun easing off in the late afternoon. Either way, he was happy. But he desperately needed a drink.
As evening fell, he finally spotted what he had been searching for. That colourful board hanging in front of the door, creaking in the wind, inviting travellers to the comforts of food, drink, and wenches within. Except, the sign wasn’t creaking at all; it was swinging soundlessly above the doorway. There was definitely something wrong with this tavern.
Makyron entered The Sharpened Bluntooth to find more or less what he’d expect to find in a tavern. Two-score rowdy men drinking excessively. There were, however, two things that stood out as being distinctly unusual. First of all, there were no wenches, at all. Second of all, most of the men were pretty much naked.
Ignoring this, he made his way to the bar and signalled to the innkeeper.
“Pint of something strong to wash down whatever food you have, if you please.”
“You got any money?” asked the innkeeper.
“Of course,” he said, though of course, he didn’t.
“I’ll get you something to eat and drink. Name’s Deklow. You?”
“Makyron,” he said, then gestured to the common room behind him. “What’s with all the naked people?”
“Priorities,” shrugged Deklow. “It was more important for them to have a drink than it was to find clothes.”
“I can relate to that,” agreed Makyron, nodding appreciatively.
“These gentlemen will tell you more if you’re interested,” said the innkeeper as he pointed to two fully clothed men at the bar.
He turned to see two familiar faces sitting beside him. The alleged city watchmen, possibly alcohol thieves.
“Ah, the city watchmen,” he said, frowning suspiciously. “What were your names?”
“And I’m Consable Tyke.”
“You’re not a const—”
“We’re ‘ere ‘o inves’igate a shipwreck.”
“I’m Makyron. I’m here to drink and to eat. In that order, I hope.”
“You’re sober,” pointed out Pektyne.
“Not for long,” he said, eagerly taking a swig as Deklow handed him his first drink.
* * *
The room was dark, save for the select bright beams of light piercing through the shutters. The air was thick, moist. It smelt like somebody had been sick. Makyron promptly rolled over into the evidence.
He sat up, disgusted, trying to remember where he was and how he’d come to be there. He looked around the room. It was new, clean. A single bed lay against the wall to one side, while a small desk was placed under the window. It was the fanciest room he’d been in for as long as he could remember. Despite his throbbing head, he was pleased at what he saw. Then a loud rapping at the door halted his investigation.
“Makyron!” it yelled. “Are you ready?”
He stumbled over to the door, unlocked it, and allowed it to open a crack.
“Makyron?” said the man peeking through, with another vaguely familiar man waiting behind his shoulder.
“You’re the city watchmen?” he asked after a few moments of searching through his memories. “What are you doing here? And, am I ready for what?“
The first watchman pushed the door open and curled his lip almost instantly. He backed out quickly as the smell of puke hit him.
“We don’t have time for this,” said the constable. “Get up, we’re going now.”
Makyron glanced around the room, and spotted nothing he owned. He was still wearing his suit. The bed was a mess, and he was probably better off getting out of the room as quickly as he could, in the hope that no one remembered he was there in the first place. He had no idea where the watchmen wanted to go, but he had nothing else planned, so far as he could remember.
“I’m ready,” he shrugged, “let’s go. Can we get a drink on the way?”
“I think it’s time you quit the drink,” said the constable.
“I quit last night,” he clarified, “and I will surely quit again at some stage tonight. What were your names?”
“I’m Constable Pektyne, and this is—”
“Consable Tyke, Helen ci’y watch.”
Pektyne let out a deep sigh and shook his head.
“Fine,” he said. “Can we just go?”
Makyron stumbled uneasily behind the watchmen, and they soon emerged into the tavern’s common room. There were still two-score men gathered in there, drinking excessively. Memories started to fade back, flashes of scenes he didn’t want to remember.
“Was I…” he began cautiously, “dancing naked… singing about mermaids and sailing the high seas?”
“That was relatively early on in the evening, yes,” said Pektyne.
“Go’ a lil more innersing la’er on,” added Tyke.
“Deklow, have this lot been going all night?” asked Pektyne, nodding his head towards the rowdy patrons.
“Haven’t stopped since you brought them here,” confirmed the innkeeper, who was evidently exhausted.
“We’ll need to leave them with you for a little longer, if that’s okay.”
“Of course,” said Deklow. “They can stay as long as the tab is covered. Which means, judging by the size of the treasure chest, they can pretty much stay here forever. And, my investment in this tavern will prove to have been a good one! Just two days ago you were questioning me, but I told you…”
“So you did,” agreed the constable. “Well, thank you.”
Pektyne then strolled into the common room, searching.
“Which one of you was in charge? The next meal, as it were.”
One of the men reluctantly raised his hand, gazed around realising he was being singled out for something he probably didn’t want to do.
“Can you sober up just a little and come with us?” asked Pektyne. “I’ve got questions for you.”
“I’ll take care of his ale,” volunteered Makyron, snatching it without waiting for a response.
The sailor reluctantly joined the watchmen, while Makyron generously assisted a few more patrons, rapidly relieving them of their burdens. Tyke had to drag him by the arm under Pektyne’s disapproving gaze.
“Fine, fine, I am coming…”
It wasn’t until they had made it outside into the midday sun that Tyke released Makyron from his brutish grip, and the four of them proceeded toward the beach.
“What’s your name, sailor?” asked Pektyne.
“Rendyle, Assistant Navigator.”
“Navigator? You were responsible for getting lost?”
“Assistant Navigator. I only received the promotion-by-default a few months back. And I found this island, didn’t I?”
Makyron could see the shipwreck as they neared it. A large three-masted, fully-rigged barque; the fore and aft sails triangular, while the two taller masts supported three sprits each, which in turn had the tattered remains of faded-white square sails hanging from them. The hull was made of a fine teak, perfectly finished, aside from the gaping hole that had developed from running aground.
It was the largest ship he had seen – at least in his unreliable memory. It was, however, curious that he knew anything about ships in the first place. At that moment, he couldn’t concentrate on that puzzle; he was a little distracted by the mermaid on the beach. He tried to ignore her.
“I suppose you did find somewhere to land,” agreed Pektyne. “How did you do it?”
“A little fish told me where to go,” shrugged Rendyle.
“Right,” said the constable. “No doubt. Fine. Well, the more important question is where did you come from?”
The navigator shook his head, grimacing. Makyron hardly noticed, his eyes were fixed on the mermaid seductively squirming on a rock in the shallow water, her tail flapping in a way that he could only describe as… inappropriate.
“I asked among the crew last night if any of them could remember. We think it was called Tennonport, or Port Tennon, or Tannon… something like that. So many years on the sea with the sun baking our heads has left us all a little forgetful, I’m afraid.”
“Tennon…” said the constable with a thoughtful expression, “doesn’t ring a bell. Was it on the mainland?”
“Does anybody else see her?” queried Makyron.
“Well, yes. This is Renryre Island. It was just off the coast of the mainland.”
“Mainland… no, I don’t think so. We could sail around it. But then, you can sail around anything if you keep following the coast for long enough.”
“Seriously, none of you can see her?”
“I suppose that makes sense,” agreed Pektyne, though he seemed rather disappointed. “But this particular mainland was… very big. That’s why we called it the mainland.”
“Maybe we just called it home,” said the sailor.
“Right there, on that rock,” insisted Makyron. “None of you can see her?”
“Don’t you have charts onboard the ship?” asked the constable, suddenly excited again.
“Faded and rotted, I’m afraid. Nothing useful there.”
“Tyke,” pleaded Makyron, “surely you can see her?”
“Wha’ a you on abou’?”
“So you have just been sailing around aimlessly,” queried Pektyne with diminishing patience, “with no way of knowing where you were going? What about the compass?”
“The compass doesn’t work, like I said.”
“You did say so. But why bother keeping it?” asked Pektyne, withdrawing the compass from his pocket. “Look, it’s pointing… north?”
“Well, it is right now, yes,” acknowledged Rendyle, “but as soon as you get there, it will point you somewhere else.”
“Look, if you can’t see the mermaid,” said Makyron, “just tell me, and I will go back to the tavern and drink more ale until I don’t need to worry about the distinction between my mind and reality.”
The constable briefly glanced at Makyron disapprovingly, and then to the water where the mermaid waited on rocks. He then turned back to the navigator without comment.
“If it doesn’t point north,” he said, “then where does it point to? What happens if you follow it?”
“I don’t know,” said the sailor. “We gave up following it years ago.”
Pektyne flipped the compass over a few times, shaking his head.
“I wasn’t coincidentally sent to Bluntooth Peninsula a day before a shipwreck, to find a tavern that had coincidentally opened on that day in the middle of nowhere, which coincidentally had enough room for the crew of a shipwreck that was yet to be wrecked, only to find an unusually ornate compass that was coincidentally lying next to a treasure chest… a compass which doesn’t work.”
“We’re going a follow ‘at compass, aren’ we, consable?” remarked Tyke.
“We certainly are,” said Pektyne.
“Actually,” said Makyron, “I was thinking of heading back to—”
“We have a deal, Makyron. It’s too late for you to back out of it now.”
Makyron racked his brain for any memory of a deal. He couldn’t find anything. Nothing at all. Just a vague image of his suit crumpled on the floor as he danced and sang with a crowd of shipwrecked sailors.
“Of course,” said the drunk, “I remember.”
He glanced briefly at the mermaid before turning his back on her and following the constables up the beach, while Pektyne studied the compass. Rendyle fell in beside Makyron as they walked.
“Was she pretty?” asked the sailor.
“Was who pretty?”
“The mermaid you saw on the beach there.”
“The mermaid? They’re real?“
“Well, only sailors can see them. I’ve been at sea for forty years; I know how it is. I’ve seen my fair share of enticing looking sails draped over barrels, or the tiller showing her curves…”
“What? What are—”
“Rendyle,” interrupted Pektyne. “Where did the compass come from?”
“I don’t know,” he shrugged. “Just always had it, I gu… godsdammit, what are those?”
The party came to an abrupt stop at the sailor’s exclamation. They were some thirty yards from the rocky entrance of a dark cave that lay at the water’s edge. In front of it were two great big beasts, grazing on the pebbles. They looked like horses, in a way, except they were covered in scales, more like a lizard.
“‘ey’re blun’oofs,” said Tyke dramatically. “Big uns.”
“Bluntooth dragons,” clarified Pektyne. “Harmless, as far as I am aware. But they do appear to be in the way. The compass is pointing to that cave.”
After a moment of motionless pondering, Tyke came up with a solution. He picked up a large pebble and threw it. It struck the larger beast on the shoulder, and bounced off without generating the slightest flinch.
“Thank you, Tyke,” said Pektyne. “I’m impressed at how much thought you put into that. You really are coming along as a watchman.”
Tyke smirked as he drew a dagger, but Pektyne was quick to cut him off.
“No, don’t do that. We’ll just creep past them quietly. They probably won’t even notice us.”
“Creep past them?” exclaimed Makyron. “Have you seen the size of those teeth? They might accidentally chew my head if I get too close.”
“Then don’t get too close,” Pektyne said nonchalantly. “Let’s go.”
They crept forward as stealthily as a sun-frazzled sailor, an alcohol-fried beach bum, and a generous-around-the-waist watchman could. The bluntooth dragons were generous enough not to point out their flaws, and carried on chewing stones, instead of their bones, as though nothing significant was happening in the area. Tyke, in the mean time, had slipped past and was waiting inside before anybody noticed he’d gone. Nobody wanted to ask where he’d learned that skill.
“Nuffin ‘ere, consable,” he said. “Bu’ someone kindly lef a lamp burnin fa us.”
The cave was small; a chamber – no bigger than ten feet wide and long – came to a dead-end after the first bend. The rock walls were damp, and puddles of water littered the floor. The occasional sound of a drop of water echoed loudly in the relative quiet. There was, as Tyke had pointed out, a torch burning in the centre of the chamber which otherwise showed no signs of habitation.
“Hello, sweetheart!” came a soft voice from behind, but it was only Makyron who jumped.
The mermaid sat easily at the edge of the cave, her tail hanging into one of the puddles. The dim light shone off her wet skin, making her appear to be faintly glowing. She smiled seductively at Makyron, and winked slowly, purposefully.
“Just so we are clear,” said Makyron loudly, “Am I the only one in this cave… who can see that mermaid sitting over there, at the edge of the cave, with a tail hanging into the water?”
The silence answered his question on their behalf.
“Fine. What do you want?” he asked the apparition.
“I think this is more about what you want, isn’t it?” she pointed out. “You are the one having disturbing thoughts about a beautiful fish.”
“Granted, you are not exactly what I’m usually into,” he said, momentarily forgetting his audience. “Historically I’ve been more attracted to girls with legs. I think I am as confused as you.”
“Don’t be ashamed,” said Rendyle patting him on the back. “We sailors all go through it at some point.”
“Are you two quite done?” asked Pektyne impatiently. “There is nothing in this cave, except for a torch. Why is there a bloody torch in an empty cave? Why is there a lit torch in an empty cave? Everything seems so conveniently placed lately, and now this? What does it mean?”
“Fink ya seeing somefink ain’ ‘ere a be seen, consable,” said Tyke.
“Am I?” he shouted.
“What about the compass?” asked Rendyle. “Where is it pointing now?”
Pektyne pulled out the compass and glanced at it momentarily and sighed deeply. He shook his head for a moment, and sighed again.
“Back outside the cave.”
“I told you,” said the sailor. “It doesn’t work.”
“Could it be pointing towards the tavern, by any chance?” ventured Makyron, trying not to look at the attractive fish waving at him.
“I fink i’ is, don’ you, consable?” suggested Tyke. “Ge’ing dark anyways.”
“Fine,” Pektyne relented with another sigh. “Let’s just go.”
They crept back out past the bluntooths – who still didn’t take any interest in them – and made their way back in near silence, apart from Tyke who rambled on about many things, often quite incomprehensibly.
They arrived back at The Sharpened Bluntooth shortly after dark, and Rendyle vanished into the mob of drunken sailors who had yet to prioritise obtaining clothing. Makyron, joining the watchmen at the bar, had something on his mind that had been bothering him the entire day. He couldn’t ask the question directly, he would need to wait until it slipped out.
Constable Pektyne handed him a drink, and grinned.
“Ready to make another deal?”
“Another deal?” he said. Another deal? “Certainly. What is it?”
“If you can remember this deal tomorrow when I wake you up, then I won’t drag you around pointlessly the whole day, teaching you a valuable lesson you won’t even remember.”
“You bloody bastard,” said Makyron, though even he chuckled.
“Think your day was better than mine anyway,” said the constable, fumbling with the compass.
“What have you got there?” asked Deklow from behind the bar.
“A broken compass, it seems,” he said, showing it to the innkeeper. “Completely useless. Looks valuable though, got some odd script on it. And I think the back is gold-plated, and it has stars etched into it.”
Deklow studied the compass, nodding appreciatively.
“Seven stars,” he said. “Interesting. Very interesting. I have a friend in Helen’s Bay who works for a wealthy collector. When you head back down there, look for a gentleman named Arynlock. I think he will be very interested.”
I hope you enjoyed reading Renryre Island Chapter XV: Which Way’s North?
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