Chapter 10
The Pirate King of the North Seas

Uther's Lighthouse, Pendragon Islands

In the days before Norland was brought to heel, seafaring kingdoms would raid the lands to the south, but the fjords of the western coast were treacherous even for seasoned sailors, so the arts of the High City were purchased to construct a lighthouse to warn ships before they were in danger of smashing on the rocks. When the Pendragons conquered the land, the lighthouse was renamed in honor of King Lother's father. Only the scholars of the High City still remembered that it was once called the Tower of Phaethon in honor of the son of their sun god.
There were no more raiders from Norland, nor the rare trader who dared the western approach, so the lighthouse had fallen into disuse. It was treated as a watchpost in the domain of the Lord Steward, but was only garrisoned by a few disfavored men in Prince Cain's employ. Besides serving as a sort of punishment, the remote location was also sure to be free of any unwelcome prying eyes.
Captain Bruno, Forktongue and ten of Cain's more trusted troops stood waiting for the guests. The island was a pillar of stone nearly as high as the cliffs on the mainland and it took time to climb up the narrow stairs carved into the rock.
This was not the Captain's first time dealing with them. Not having any ships of his own, Prince Cain would employ pirates from time to time for business beyond their shores. The dread pirate Gore was among the most fierce. A hulking Orc with mottled green-and-brown skin, he was one of the great terrors of the northern seas. He was joined by seven others, among them the half-Giant they called Gigantor and the heathen soothsayer Braca.
Captain Bruno would rather not have to deal with the likes of them, but he had his orders and he would never act against the orders of his prince.
Impudent as ever, Gore cackled at the sight of Bruno and the others, saying, "Th' fat man a' th' tower sinds 'is dog, does 'e?"
Bruno reached for the hilt of his sword and warned the pirate, "Insult His Highness again and I will have you answer for it."
Gore mocked him for the threat, telling his companions, "Lil' dog likes ta yap, 'e does. Ay olweys liked me roast dog on th' spit."
Before their purpose was forgotten in Bruno's bid to defend his honor and the honor of his prince, Forktongue stepped in to intervene. With his voice slick as oil, he played the peacemaker, saying, "Captain Gore, why settle for a taste of blood when gold is much more suited to your palette?"
"Firs' th' dog, now th' snake," Gore balked. "Ay'll boil ye fer stew."
Forktongue simply smiled.
"You'll find my meat is rather tough, Captain."
"Beware, Cap'n," the soothsayer Braca said in a low, wary voice, "'e's more'n any snake, that one is."
Despite his fearsome reputation, Gore heeded the soothsayer's warning and did not say anything more to provoke Forktongue. For his part, Forktongue carried himself with an easy self-assurance. Though Captain Bruno was confident in his skill with a sword, he was all too aware of how dangerous the people he was dealing with were. He was quite reasonably on edge, which made the advisor's uncanny calm quite unsettling.
As if there had been no disruption to the conversation, Forktongue said, "Prince Cain's proposal is simple. You know the Hulks that sail in the northern bay. They are crewed by all manner of prisoners not fit for the dungeons. You are to free them and use them to attack the castle.
"Every man, woman and child you find is yours to do with as you will, but take no plunder save for what is on their persons. Abide by these terms and you will be handsomely rewarded. Break these terms and you would do well never to return."
"Th' fat man wonts 'is castle nice an' pre'y whin 'e claims it, does 'e?" Gore said. He scratched his chin as if he were considering the conditions placed on him. "We'll see. D'pinds on me mood whin Ay gets there."
Forktongue beckoned four men carrying a heavy chest. He nodded to Bruno, who took his key and opened the chest to reveal a generous amount of gold.
"If I could have a pledge of agreement from you, I could give you this downpayment," Forktongue said, nodding to the chest of gold. "But if you do not wish to inspire any confidence..."
The gold immediately caught the pirate captain's eye. It changed his demeanor just as quickly.
"Ay kin say words if'n it gits me gold," he said, a little too eagerly to deny the offering's great draw.
Forktongue extended his hand.
"The humans like to seal such pledges by grasping the wrists."
Gore nodded.
"Ay've seen 'em do it."
Forktongue waved his hand slightly to reiterate the offer. With but a moment's hesitation, Gore clasped wrists with Forktongue. The faint smile on the advisor's lips twisted into more a sinister grin. Gore's eyes widened and his arm quaked in Forktongue's grip.
"Wot th' divil!?"
When Forktongue released the pirate captain, a twisted black mark remained on his wrist.
"A little guarantee for your pledge, Captain," Forktongue explained. "Abide by the terms and I will release you. Betray Prince Cain's confidence and you will die slowly and quite painfully."
Gore looked at the mark, then to Forktongue and scowled.
"Ye rilly are a snake."
"When dealing with snakes, Captain, you must beware their bite."
"Ay'll do as ye say," Gore said.
"And you shall profit by it," Forktongue replied. "Two months from now, on the night of the new moon, launch your attack."
"Aye."
Forktongue stepped behind the chest of gold and gestured to it, saying, "Enjoy your gold and look to further riches to come."
"Ay'll be expectin' it," Gore replied, motioning for a few of his men to go pick up the chest.
"As we'll be expecting you to perform your task without fail. And that should conclude our business for now. Farewell."
Forktongue turned and left, prompting Bruno and the rest of the Prince's men to follow. In part, Bruno was thankful for Forktongue's presence for the negotiations, but there was something unsettling about how he conducted himself. Of course, this was nothing new. Forktongue had always been a strange and suspicious character. Bruno could only hope that he had no ill intent for their master. If there was some well-concealed treachery at work, he feared his arm alone would not be enough to protect his prince.