The merchant turned to Targon with a scrutinizing eye. “Yee’re a strange one, Targon. Aye, an’ that’s why I’m not lettin’ ye out of my sight. Ye know, yeer voice sounds a wee bit garbled taeday. Ifin ye care tae tell me why, I might jus’ let ye go ashore. Why dinna ye step intae me cabin, mister Destructible.”
There was something wrong with Targon. He knew it. He could feel it deep down, but he couldn’t tell what it was exactly. Was he the type who meekly followed orders? Or the type to sit idly by while he was shipped all over the south seas? Two ports they had passed now and Targon was still on this tiny ship with this man who he knew almost nothing about. What was it Smythe had said? Something about the man putting people into trances or something? “Well” Targon thought. “If he’s messing with my mind, I’ve got to fight back.”
“Weel now, what do ye think o’ me cabin, eh? Suren it may be a wee bit small, but it’s snug an’ cozy an’ I wouldna have it any other way.”
Looking around, Targon saw that Taylor was right. Every bit of the walls was covered with shelves and every bit of the shelves was full of trinkets. Some were broken, some half made. And in the corner there was a desk with a box of tools on it. It reminded Targon of a workshop. In another corner there was a stand with dozens of strange musical instruments that Targon had never the likes of. From the ceiling hung all sorts of dried provisions as well as a hammock and in the far wall, directly opposite the door, was a stout, black iron furnace with a little door on it. Targon guessed that this was what powered the paddlewheel and the calliope and he wasn’t far wrong.
“So how aboot that voice o’ yeers? Ye know the name o’ lass what handed ye that scar?”
“Ye’re lucky ye ken that? Most people canna get theer throat slit an’ live tae tell o’ it. But then again…most people canna get theer head split open an’ live tae tell. Ye were lucky I came aloong when I did.” The merchant squinted, looking sideways at the Dragon Master. “Aye, very lucky indeed.”
“Are ya tryin’ to say something?” Targon growled.
Taylor looked away. “Heh, that girl kens how tae wield a piece o’ metal, eh? Aye, she isna brave girl but ye dinna want tae make her mad. ‘course I might be mad meself ifin ye’d kidnapped me.”
The Dragon Master closed his eyes trying to shut out Taylor’s voice. What was he getting at? What game was he playing? How did he know so much? “Concentrate Targon. Make him answer your questions for a change.”
“You—” Targon rumbled through gritted teeth. “What are you getting at?”
Taylor turned back to the Dragon Master, his eyes soft now. “Ye really want tae go ashore don’t ye?” The peddler sighed before continuing. “I jus’ want tae tell ye…tae tell ye not tae waste yeer life chasin’ after that stone. An’ tae remind ye too that ye’ll not always be so lucky. One o’ these days ye’ll find yeerself standin’ at deaths door wishin’ ye’d struck a blow fer the side of good. Chodan kens ye—”
“What?” The Dragon Master sneered. Something snapped inside of Targon at that moment. “Chodan? CHODAN? Don’t bore me with the myth of Chodan! I know the way things really work ‘round here! Who’s really runnin’ things! And I don’t like getting morality lessons from a bloody Mountebank! Oh, an’ about the stone? Don’t even begin ta pretend you know anythin’ about that. Nobody knows what it is— who it is. Not you, not Burtrand… Nobody but me.”
“Weel,” Taylor sighed, “there’s the door Mr. Targon. Ye’re free tae go.”
The Dragon Master turned, and left without a word. But eyes of Taylor Road followed him out and when he was gone the peddler spoke to the stillness.
“An’ ye’re wrong, Mr. Destructible. I ken more then ye think.”
Targon jumped over the last few boards of the dock and onto the sandy soil of the island.
“Ah, free again. No more ships, no more bloody women, an’ no more mystical medicine peddlers! Yessir… I don’t care what the rules are. An’ I don’t care who thinks they’re in charge either. I’m gonna get my kingdom and no one’s gonna stop me! But first… First I’m gonna find my rock!”
On board the Aterops, Captain Johnson looked over his new recruits. They didn’t look like the honest, steady men he wanted on his ship. But then, most of his men hadn’t started out that way. He’d whipped them into shape just like his captain had done to him all those years ago. Now he’d ordered three of his men into the town to buy supplies and materials. That left him with the rest of his crew and the new men.
“I wish O’Brion was here.” Johnson thought to himself. “Maybe that merchant could give me a better idea of where…”
But as Johnson was thinking this he heard a strange strand of music floating across the water. Turning, he saw the Apple-tart paddling its way out onto the seas. The form of the merchant could still be made out against the water, as he stood by the controls. He was holding some kind of new instrument. A bag like thing with pipes. Or, as Taylor called it, a zampogna.
And the beautiful, deep, melancholy tune of that instrument echoed over the water as the Apple-tart went puffing into the distance.
Let us stop for a moment and ponder the signiture...
Ok, enough of that!