Tales of the Ailendar, Volume 6: The Last Voyage of the Starling – Part 2

The port was already souring in Cadius’s belly, and his vision had long since filmed over, but he dredged the final coin from his coat pocket and slapped it on the bar. “Las’ toast to m’lady Ocean,” he slurred when the drink was delivered and he hefted it high. Liquid sloshed over the mug’s side and dribbled down his grubby sleeve. “Me lover, me temptress, an’ witness me oath, me grave.” He brought the drink to his lips and drained it, spilling at least a quarter down his front.

Patrons surrounded him with raucous, belittling laughter. Everything mocked him now. Cadius, the captain without a ship. He snarled at them all to shut up, trying to summon his fiercest bellow, the voice that had sent hundreds of sailors scurrying to obey. No one listened, and the laughing swelled into overbearing immensity. Cadius dragged himself off the barstool and lurched his way through the dockside tavern. The floor wobbled like a deck in a storm, but eventually he found the door and left the cacophony behind.

It was nearly sunset. The docks should have been teeming with sailors, workers and harbor crew. These days, the markets had invaded to the very edge of the dock, and all around him, men and women in puffed-up frippery flitted across his domain. He shouted at them to make way, wallowing in the disgusted looks his presence garnered and throwing them right back at his persecutors. “Don’chu know a cap’n when ye see one?” he demanded.

His weaving steps led him to the old lighthouse. The lamps were being lit, and across the way he spotted a lanky, well-dressed figure that made his fists clench at his sides. Everyone in Lukkos could recognize the great Folistras by sight, the innovator, the man who’d conquered the skies, and other such ridiculous titles.

He had a young, pretty thing on his arm, strutting like a perfumed-and-pampered courtier, chatting with this merchant and that lady, laughing, smiling. Cadius growled and advanced toward the clueless innovator. String bean like that, only a single slice with a blade would split him in two. The thought made Cadius cackle, and he groped for his hilt as he walked.

Let’s see how well you laugh with your innards spilling out for all to see, you gutless son of a—


A pair of hands seized his coat and shook him.

“Unhand me, whoe’er ye are!” he snarled. “I’ve a spot of vengeance to fulfill!”

“Captain, it’s Rake!”

The urgent, youthful voice broke through the red haze in Cadius’s mind. He turned and blinked at Rake. His one-time cabin boy shook his arms again. “Leave off,” he growled. “What ye be hollerin’ about?”

“Sir, it’s the Starling!” he exclaimed. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere. Mr. Fargus came an’ found me in the Salty Wench, told me to say ‘the Starling’s mercy is past.” A pained look crossed the young man’s face, and he doubled over and vomited in the dirt at their feet.

Chuckling, Cadius patted his crewman’s back. “There, now,” he crooned. “Need to learn yer limits when it comes to the drink, lad.”

Rake came up again, his face green as he wiped his mouth with a grimy sleeve. “Sir, you’ve gotta listen. Mr. Fargus were serious! He said if he don’t receive the money to start on the Starling’s repairs, then her berth is to be sold off. He…” He swallowed, and his eyes filled with tears. “He says he’ll sell her for firewood!”

Cadius’s laughter died in his throat. “He wouldn’t dare.”

“Says he can’t afford to keep a ship what ain’t no good to anyone takin’ up valuable space,” Rake groaned. “He says to pay up, or he’s clearin’ her out!”

Cadius released his grip on his cutlass, letting it slide back into its sheath with a clack. “He’ll do no such thing, because I’m clearin’ her out meself!”

A glimmer of hope awoke in Rake’s dark eyes. “Ye found the money, captain?”

“Money?” he cackled. “No man needs to pay to cross the sea. Gather the lads, a couple stout cudgels, and as much lumber, nails and caulking material as you can fit yer arms around. Meet me at Fargus’s drydock as quick as ye can!”


After knocking out the night guards, they worked by meager lamplight, half a dozen men with hammers, scrounged timber and plenty of stolen rum. Cadius stalked up and down the work lines, extoling encouragement and promising promotions and vast rewards of future riches. “Forget Lukkos,” he rumbled, and inarticulate growls of agreement echoed his words. “If this country wants to forsake its own roots, then let ‘em, says I. The sea ain’t as dead as the world believes. We’ll start a brand new Lukkos all on our own.”

“No other pirates sailin’ about to cut in on our territory!” his second mate, Barson, sang out. “All the more swag fer us!”

“What, robbin’ other ships?” Cadius’s newly appointed coxswain, Unger, slurred, taking a generous swallow when the rum bottle came back around.

“No, ye fool,” Barson sneered. “Raidin’ sea villages, th’way our grandfathers did ages ago.”

“No taxes on take from Lukkan bureaucrats!” Rake put in. “Only rightful tribute to our cap’n!”

At the cheers that rose up into the night sky, Cadius chuckled and swaggered over to Rake, slinging an arm across his thin shoulders. “Fer that show of initiative, me lad, ye’ve just become the Starling’s new first mate. Three cheers to Rake!” he commanded.

His men obeyed with enthusiasm and passed the bottle round again.

The Starling took shape in the light of their lanterns. The holes in her hull were patched, not prettily and with plenty of swearing when hammers found fingers, but Cadius’s heart swelled when he saw her lines straightening out. He sent half his men out to pilfer sails and rigging from Fargus’s other vessels, and before the rum ran out or the guards wriggled free of their ropes, he judged his beloved ship more seaworthy than she’d been in years. Throughout the work, he’d regaled them with the exploits of his glory days, and he now concluded with promises of even greater glory to come, for all who had the courage to follow him.

“Aye, cap’n!” his crew roared.

“To the seas’ end!” Rake added.

“Then all hands to stations!” he ordered, and sent his meager crew scrambling aboard the vessel. A shout from a red-faced Fargus and his dozen day laborers provoked peals of laughter from the crew as they threw down bits of old timber and crates to knock down the stilts holding the Starling back from the shore. With a mighty creak and groan, she slid down the ramps and slammed into the waves.

“Yer welcome to come after me if yer man enough to face me on the seas!” Cadius shouted back as the Starling drifted away from the city.

She tilted to the port just a tad, but she remained afloat, and Cadius stood atop the forecastle with his shoulders back and his gaze locked on the horizon. The night sky was lined with clouds, obscuring his view of the stars, but the faint glow of a false dawn provided all the direction required, and he turned the Starling southwest and let her carry them into open waters.

“Good riddance,” Cadius muttered, planting his back firmly to Lukkos. “To the Mists with ye, Garnithos, and all yer ventures. Farewell, Folistras the damnable, and pray I ne’er lay sight on yer neck again.”

The Starling made it all the way past the southern islands before the break of dawn revealed a squall bearing down on them like the wrath of the Bane. The crew’s boisterous cheers turned to screams of panic and terror as the sea bucked beneath them. Cadius clung to the wheel with a death grip and fought to make his voice heard above the pounding waves.

“Secure that sail if ye know what’s good fer ye, ya briny layabouts!” he shouted.

He spotted Rake scrambling up the forecastle steps, slipping and sliding with the water spraying over the Starling’s sides. “First mate or no,” Cadius yelled, “I need ye in the shrouds!”

“Captain, I’ve been down below!” Rake screamed back. “She’s takin’ on water!”

“Won’t make no difference if we lose the main mast. Get to it!”

“But sir—”

Cadius seized a handful of his soaked shirt. “I said get, Rake!”

“Aye, sir!” His first mate scrambled back down the stairs and clambered up the yards.

Cadius felt the Starling shudder under his hands, her timbers practically groaning with pain. “We’ve sailed through worse, me love,” he crooned. “Hold together… for me…”

But even as he said it, he felt, more than heard, the repair work fracture under his feet. The deck wrenched, the prow lifted higher and higher, and men’s screams mingled with the voice of the storm as the blow tossed them from the rigging. Three landed with hard cracks against the main deck, while the others pitched over the sides and into the roiling broth of the sea.

A reef. They’d run aground on a reef.

Cadius gripped the wheel and watched the bodies of his crewmen, Rake included, slide with the sloughing water as the Starling leaned starboard. The waves were driving her even harder onto the reef. With her center so far off-balance, it was only a matter of time before she listed and was ground apart by the merciless waves.

Alone at the end. Just you, me and the sea. As it should be.

“So be it!” Cadius shouted into the rigging, and grinned like a madman as he held the wheel. Saltwater stung his eyes like purifying tears, and the voice of his darling, dying vessel surpassed even the waves. “For you, my fair Starling, it’s worth it! Together, as we were always meant to go!”

The roar of the waves was the only reply.