The Net, The Shell, and The Sword

Disclaimer: The Pirates of Dark Water was created by David Kirschner and was owned by Hanna-Barbera, now part of AOL-Time-Warner. Ioz is part of the canon, Solia is part of the canon, and Megara is sort of part of the canon, as an extra in the miniseries (first five episodes). I do not own any of them, nor do I own the basic world that they appear in. Other characters are from my own brain.

Author's Note: This took me over a year to actually finish. I cannot promise any sequels, and certainly not any time soon, although I would like to write more if I have the time and energy. As for reviews, I will not beg for them, but review if you feel like it, and don't worry too much about trying not to be negative, although "omg d00d this sux!!111" is not appreciated. Constructive criticism is welcome, although I may not agree with you. Positive or negative reviews will probably not affect whether or not I write more fanfic. I've tried to stay as close to the canon as possible while still allowing for personality differences due to age. The prologue is about as dark and violent as this fic gets (ie, violence is infrequent, and more implied than explicit), and sex is mentioned a couple times but there aren't any sex scenes. And the only swearing is along the lines of "Noy Jitat!" And all that has probably scared more people away than if I had said it contained all sorts of sex and violence.

How much longer would he have to stay here, as a crewman for a cruel pirate captain?
Probably forever, he thought grimly. True, the current captain might not last forever, but Oneld had a pretty good bet as to who would take the old captain's place. And Oneld suspected that it would not be as long before they had a new captain as Kuzza might plan. Old Kuzza had probably bought himself a year or two more of life by naming young Bloth as his subordinate, but Oneld sensed that their second-in-command was growing hungry for yet more power. And if I'm any judge, Bloth will make Old Kuzza seem like a milksop, thought Oneld. This may be my last chance to escape.
They were in port right now, docked in Janda Town. If there is any place that will give me both a chance to escape and a chance to hide, this is it, thought Oneld. Janda Town was one of the biggest port towns in Mer, one of about a dozen towns where there were more out-of-towners than residents. One more drifting sailor would not be noticed.
He hoped.
Oneld, like some other members of the crew, had not come onto Kuzza's ship willingly, but was taken prisoner because Kuzza's ship was shorthanded. He and three other men were given a demonstration of what would happen to them if they disobeyed or tried to leave, and Oneld had no doubt that what had happened to that poor man would happen to him. That man had been captured at the same time as Oneld and the others, but was later found to be lame and sickly. But he had done nothing in particular to merit Kuzza's wrath, whereas, if Oneld was recaptured, he had every reason to expect it. By the gods, what kind of man kept a razorbeak as a pet?!
Kuzza did not normally keep too close an eye on his crewmen in port. The reason was two-edged: Kuzza, however cruel a leader, did reward his crewmen for their service better than many a captain, which kept them from being too unhappy; and if someone was discontent enough to consider leaving, he knew what his fate would be if he were caught, or if he turned a blind eye to the escape of another. In any case, it would have been difficult to chaperone his crew without confining them to the ship, and even Kuzza took some care to avoid provoking mutiny. However, Oneld didn't usually frequent the same places as the other pirates; he sent whatever gold he could earn to his family and had little interest in drinking, gambling, or wenching. Until recently, he had often spent the time in port with his friend Keer--but Keer was dead now. Keer had left him a substantial amount of gold, for Keer had been saving his pay for his own escape-they had planned to leave together. But Keer had died before their dream could become a reality, and Oneld was left to go it alone. Normally Kuzza would send at least one of his relatively loyal crewmen to keep an eye on someone like Oneld, someone who seemed more than usually discontent, but those were in short supply at this point; Kuzza would have had to choose between Lete, who would likely get killed if it came to a fight between them, or Bloth, who was very conscious of his own status and would not appreciate being sent on such a lowly chore. Since he was the crew member with the lowest status right now, Oneld had been sent to buy supplies from those merchants that Kuzza needed to maintain a friendly relationship with (in other words, those from whom Kuzza dared not steal). So Oneld had been sent away from the ship alone into the busiest port on Mer. He might not get another such chance. But if he tried to hide in one of the Janda Town establishments, a tavern or some such place, he was unlikely to succeed, and in this boisterous town, there were few other places to hide. Janda Town was a small island; little space was not taken up by the town itself. Accordingly, he set about looking for a ship willing to hire him-hopefully a ship that he would eventually be able to leave.

* * *

This was not going well. Not one of the ships he'd asked about was willing to take him on as crew. The merchant ships did not need crew, or so they said. Some may not have liked the look of him-fearful as he was, if he showed a tenth of what he was feeling, then they would know that there was something wrong. In desperation, he even tried some of the ships that he knew were pirate ships-it might be easier to escape from them than from Kuzza, and in any case he could not go back now. Kuzza was not a fool, and would know what he had tried. However, the pirate ships also would not take him. Maybe it was for the same reasons that the merchant ships turned him away, but maybe it was because Kuzza's men had already begun their search for him, and the other captains suspected that he was the same man that Kuzza's men were searching for. As he was trying to decide whether to tell some of the merchants he'd talked to before the truth of his story and ask for refuge (slim hope of them granting it!) or asking to join the crew of some of the captains that he knew by reputation to be as cruel as Kuzza, he heard someone cry out, "There he is!" He recognized the voice as Bloth's and turned just in time to see the young second-in-command rush over to him, along with another fellow crew member. Oneld raised his sword, hoping to go down fighting, but Bloth, by far the larger and stronger of the two, knocked Oneld's blade away with his own. The other crewman grabbed Oneld before he could make another move, and he and Bloth had soon tied up Oneld with some rope that they had no doubt brought with them for the occasion. They prepared to bring Oneld back to the ship. Oneld knew that pleading or begging would be no use, and so he simply tried to gather as much dignity about himself as he could.


"Mother, can I have a candied clam today?" Soja's son asked.
"No, you may not, Ioz. Candied clams are too expensive."
"But I used to get candied clams sometimes before!"
"Well, that was before. We just don't have the money right now." "It's not fair! We used to get candied clams before! What makes now so different?" Ah, yes, the inevitable "why" question, thought Soja. But she couldn't tell him why. Now that his father was gone, they didn't have enough money to waste on treats, but she couldn't explain that to Ioz. Oh, he'd figure it out eventually, but if she told him, then she'd have to tell Solia, her baby, that her father had been forcibly taken as crew for a pirate ship before Solia had even been born--and that he'd been killed just a few days ago because he had tried to escape that fate. If she told Ioz, he'd tell Solia, and Solia was too young to hear something like that. It was better to just avoid the question.

* * *

It was close to sundown on the Isle of Tayhoj. A boy of about 12 years old was pulling a small fishing boat safely up onto the land, out of reach of the high tide. It seemed as though the gods had been trying to conserve colors when they created him: his skin was light brown, his hair was fairly dark brown, and his eyes were so dark brown that they looked black, but all seemed to be lighter or darker versions of the same color. He was tall for his age, already promising to be broad-shouldered and strong. He was also promising to be irritable and hotheaded. "Scutpango Jitat, I cannot win," he said under his breath. "If I catch nothing, then I have wasted my time, but if I make a good catch, I can hardly bring this cursed boat ashore! Well, at least Mother cannot say that I am not working, not today!" The net in the boat was filled with fish, destined to be part of the menu of the Isle of Tayhoj's only inn. The boy had to hurry to reach the inn before the rush of the dinner hour came. As usual, he got there only just in time to be paid full price for the fish he brought-if he arrived too late, the cooks had no choice but to go into the market to look for fish, in which case they would not have much need for what he brought. He put the pay he'd received into the pouch that hung near his knee. Now the boy paused. His mother would not be happy if he did not go straight home with his pay-but then, she probably wouldn't be happy even if he did. She constantly reminded him how poor they were-even to the point of hinting that he should steal from the merchants in town while he was there, if he got the chance. But his first few attempts to pick pockets had ended in failure, except the last one-he had managed to grab a bag of gold, but his intended victim had not been pleased to find someone trying to steal from him. Fortunately, the man had been rather portly and he'd managed to run away, but not before receiving a few heavy blows and losing the bag of gold. "Ioz!" another boy called. And that decided it; he would not return home just yet. "It's some of those merchanter children!" said the other boy. "They're trying to go play on our street!" "Come on, Ioz, let's get those kreld-eaters!" Ioz eagerly rushed to join them. For merchanter children to stray onto the village street was an act of war on their part, and the village children had ways of dealing with other children who stumbled into their territory. As the oldest of the children who still cared about upholding the honor of the non-adult population, Ioz and his closest friends felt responsible for making sure that strange children kept to their own part of town-the part where the inns and taverns and the market all were, rather than the actual village where the residents lived. A scruffy boy with light brown hair and hazel eyes ran up to join them. His skin, naturally a relatively pale color, was darkened with dirt, and his hands clutched a basket, frayed and generally worse for the wear, that had probably been consigned to someone's rubbish heap long ago. Inside the basket were some spoiled fruits and vegetables that had probably come from the same place as the basket itself. "We've got our weapons, Ebi," said the boy with the basket. A green-eyed, black-haired boy looked at him and nodded. "All right, we're all set! Let's go!" Ioz's best friend Ebi shouted. Ebi was smaller than some of the other boys, but he was strong and stocky and projected such self-confidence that the other boys all respected him and thought of him as their leader. Everyone followed Ebi as they walked confidently toward the other group of children; you must always walk, Ebi said, slowly and confidently, toward those that you challenged, so that they knew you were important and tough. Ioz caught sight of the merchanter children; they weren't as many of them, but they were all about Ioz's age, while there were kids as young as eight in the group of the village children. If you didn't count the basket, the groups were about evenly matched. Both groups were composed entirely of males; anyone young enough to be involved in these fights was young enough to actively despise the opposite sex, and the boys never told the girls about their struggles to keep foreigners out of their village. "Hey!" called out Ebi. "This is our street, kreld-eaters!" Boys this age would use any excuse to use a gross word like "kreld," and some of the younger ones laughed simply to hear the term. And since kreld was a general (impolite) word for any sort of fertilizer, the contents of the basket could be included under that term. The insult was not chosen at random. The merchanter children stood their ground. "It's not your street. You can't boss us!" one said, glaring at them stubbornly. The village boys needed no more excuse than this. The boy with light brown hair had set the basket down, and now all the others began reaching into it for missiles with which to pelt their enemies. The merchanter children took a moment to react, during which time they became covered with pulp from the rotten vegetables. They would have liked to fight back and maintain their dignity, but as they had no similar weapons, they turned and ran. The village boys gave chase, just for good measure, but the other boys' desire to avoid being pelted with kreld combined with the fact that all the village boys had to hold back for the younger, slower members of their group meant that they soon were out of sight. The village boys turned back home to find something else to amuse themselves with, their part of town safe for the moment.

When Ioz returned home it was late at night. His seven-year-old sister, Solia, had already gone to sleep. "Ioz! It's about time!" his mother, Soja, cried. "Where is your pay?!" "It's right here. And before you ask, I didn't spend any of it," the boy responded irritably. She always asked that. This time, at least, it was true. "Good. You know how much our family needs this money." I should; you tell me at every opportunity, he thought. "Ah, yes, this should be enough for me to buy some silk thread," his mother said, half to herself. "The cloth I can weave with it will fetch a good price."
And what will I see of this? However good a price it brought, it would most likely do him little good.
"Well, Ioz, I have something to tell you." In Ioz's experience, when his mother used this phrase, it meant she wanted him to do something.
"I was making a delivery to Havimsha, and she said many of their fruit trees were knocked down or damaged in the last windstorm. She's looking for someone to remove the dead ones and trim off the branches that are too badly damaged on the living ones. She's too old and weak to these things for herself, you know, and her daughter's still just a little slip of a girl, about your age. She asked me if you'd be interested in doing it, and I told her yes. You could make more money if you did that for a while instead of fishing."
And of course, you didn't even need to ask me. Aloud he said, "Yes, mother, I will go there first thing in the morning."
"Yes, you will," she responded. "You'd better get to bed now, or you'll be tired and they'll think you're lazy. I don't know what you're thinking, staying out until all hours of the night."

The next day he was awakened by someone shaking him. It was his mother, of course. "Come on, Ioz, you have to get up and go to Havimsha's house. She's expecting you!" Wordlessly, Ioz got out of bed. It did not take long before he was ready to go.
Old Havimsha's house was quite a distance from their own house. Ioz's family lived on the shore some distance from the port itself; Havimsha lived near the marketplace, but closer to the center of the island. She was the widow of a relatively wealthy man who had owned The Tayhoj Inn until his death, when Havimsha had sold it for a high price. Havimsha had been a seamstress when she was younger, but her work now was mostly limited to the occasional garment for herself or her daughter, for she no longer had the energy of her youth. Her daughter Tesel was her only surviving child and had been born when Havimsha was in her late forties, when she had not looked to have another child. She certainly had not expected her daughter to survive, when all the others had died at less than a year old. Yet Tesel, although somewhat frail-looking and small for her age, had reached Ioz's age, as his mother had said.
Ioz looked around for Havimsha as he reached the front gates of the house. Instead he saw Tesel. He wondered why he had never noticed before how beautiful Tesel was, then wondered what had prompted that thought. "Um, my mother said that Havimsha wanted me to come here to help with the fruit trees." he said, feeling self-conscious but unsure as to why. "Where is Havimsha?" "Why would you need Havimsha here? She won't be working alongside you, you know." Tesel's tone seemed to imply that she thought him rather foolish for asking such a question. "Anyway, my mother is not feeling well today, so she sent me to meet you." As she talked, she opened the gate for him.
"The fruit trees are over there," Tesel said. "You'll know which ones need to be cleared away, which branches need to be trimmed?" Ioz confessed that he did not. "Oh, I guess I'd better show you, then," she continued, exasperated. "First of all, those ones over there that are uprooted must all be cleared away. Cut them into pieces that you can carry and take the logs and bigger branches over to the woodpile. Put the twigs in that pile of kindling. The roots go over there," she said, pointing to a rubbish heap. "Any branches that are broken, you'll have to cut back to where they branch out. But don't cut them too close to the stem, leave a little bit of space. You can remember all that, can't you?" Ioz nodded and started his task.
As Tesel walked off, she mumbled something to herself about "wharf rats." Ioz was sure that it was no accident that she had spoken loudly enough for him to hear her. I'm not a wharf rat, he thought. I have a boat-a small boat, a fishing boat, but it's still a boat! And you can't be a wharf rat if you have a boat! What's wrong with her, anyway? He continued with his work, now in an even worse mood than before.
His anger that day lent him strength. By the end of the day he had finished almost half of the work he had to do. He was glad; it seemed like he could feel the contemptuous gaze of Tesel on him as he work, although when he turned around there would be no one there. except once, he thought that he saw the flash of someone moving quickly out of a window as he looked up at the house. He was glad that the only other time he saw Tesel was at the end of the day, when she paid him for the work he'd done that day-and yet, he also felt like he would have liked to look at her more. As he walked home, he wondered why he cared so much whether Tesel was looking at him contemptuously, or looking at him at all, for that matter, or whether he could look at her. Was this the beginning of the sort of foolishness that the older boys and girls pursued? He hoped not, but he could not completely deny to himself that that was what it seemed to be. He went straight home that night; he was tired, and he didn't really feel like seeing his friends right now anyway.
"Big Brother!" Ioz's sister Solia ran up to him and threw her arms around him as he came into the main room of the house; unlike Havimsha's stately residence, his family's house consisted only of four rooms: this room, which served as both kitchen and dining room, and three small bedrooms. One was his own, one was his mother's, and one Solia shared with his mother's mother, who at this point in her life did little besides sleep and help with the small garden plot that his family had. In that order. Ioz halfheartedly returned his sister's embrace. "Is something wrong, Big Brother?" she asked. Ioz had never been quite sure why Solia always called him "Big Brother," and never by his name, but she's done it since she was little. Solia drew back from him slightly, concerned about his lack of enthusiasm.
"No, Solia, I'm fine. I'm just tired. I want to be alone right now." Complying, Solia walked off. He doubted that she believed him, but at least she didn't try to argue with him. She was a lot nicer to him than his mother, he thought-and a lot less annoying than his mother. Ioz started toward his own room, but before he could reach his destination, his mother walked in. "So you came straight home, Ioz. I'm shocked. Usually you're out running around with your friends. Now, where's your pay?" "There's nothing wrong with my friends!" he exclaimed, handing over the money nonetheless. "You're wasting time when you're with them. You could be earning money to help the family." "The family seems fine to me. Besides, it's not like I see any of the money I earn. It's always for you or Solia!" "I use that money for my business so that I can earn money! What would you use it for? You'd spend it on silly things or lose it gambling!" Ioz wanted to deny this, but wasn't quite sure how. Anything that he wanted to buy would be silly in his mother's opinion, and it was true that he had lost some money gambling already, although he hadn't thought that his mother had known about that. Not knowing what else to do, he simply stormed off to his room.

Ioz worked later the next day than he had the previous day, not wanting to come back for a third day. But although he was in as bad a mood as the previous day, he did not return directly home, because he was also still mad at his mother. Instead, he wandered around the small port town, thinking vaguely that maybe he'd see some of his friends.
As he walked down the street he heard the sound of a wind instrument, interspersed with occasional singing. The music sounded lonely and tired, but also defiant, a great deal the way that Ioz was feeling right now. It had a cathartic effect on his mood, and it called strongly to him. He turned a corner, moving toward the sound, and saw that it was a taine, a shell, altered slightly and with holes bored in it, on which the old musician was moving his fingers. He stood near the old man, hanging back until he had finished, not wishing to disrupt the song. He wished that he could create such beauty! What's wrong with you, Ioz? Next you'll be making bouquets for your mother. But there was nothing weak or effeminate about this music, not really. "Beauty" wasn't even the right word for it; he didn't have the right word. The old musician's voice was rough from long years of singing and shouting and probably too much to drink, but the song seemed to touch something in Ioz's soul.
Movement in his peripheral vision caught his attention as the old man finished his song. To the side of the old musician, a boy about Ioz's age was carefully, soundlessly removing the few coins next to him. Soundlessly, but not particularly stealthily, and Ioz saw why. The old man's gaze moved past the thief, but his expression did not change. The man was obviously blind.
The other boy saw Ioz watching him. His expression said, Stay out of this.
Probably not a bad idea, Ioz thought. If his mother or his friends were here, they would say the same. The other boy probably had a weapon, and he did not; he himself would gain nothing by challenging the boy, and who knew what would happen to him if he challenged the boy and lost?-for it was not likely that the boy would simply hand over the money if Ioz asked him to. It wasn't as though he had any particular desire to keep the people of Tayhoj honest; he himself would be happy to steal from most people if he could avoid getting caught. This was not his affair, and no sane person would get mixed up in it.
But Ioz wasn't feeling particularly sane at the moment.
"That isn't your gold," he said, already cursing himself for a fool.
The boy quickly edged away from the musician, putting his prize into a pocket. "It belongs to whoever can keep it! You should know that!" Ioz was big for his age, and not as scrawny as the other boy; but his opponent was scrawny because he was hungry, and desperate because he was hungry, and likely to be both dangerous and tenacious because he was hungry. His eyes had a look of on-edge desperation. But whatever the qualities of the other boy, retracting his words now would humiliate him. Ioz couldn't bear the thought of backing down, so he responded the only way he could: "If you want to keep it, you'll have to fight me first!"
The other boy had known Ioz's response even before he'd said it. The words were barely out of his mouth when he felt the other boy's fist slam into his stomach. As Ioz staggered back, the boy's other hand hit Ioz's temple. While Ioz was trying to recover, the boy's hands grabbed at the pouch where Ioz had put his pay for that day of work and ripped it away. Then the boy dashed off. Ioz fell into a crouch, then simply lay on the ground for a few moments, trying to recover, not just from the pain, but from the realization that all the work he had done that day was for nothing. not that he would have seen any of it, anyway.
The old man moved slowly toward him. "Are you all right, my boy? I'm afraid that you have been hurt on my account, isn't that so?"
"And I have lost my own gold," he replied irritably, but he was only angry with the boy, not the old man.
"I am truly sorry for that. Most injuries will mend themselves with time, after all, but gold only seems to get scarcer. That young thief was right in this, though: gold belongs to whoever can keep it. Perhaps he will not be able to keep it for so long, eh? Those young troublemakers are often gamblers, too."
"Yes," Ioz said absently, wondering if the whole world knew that he'd already tried that sort of game.
"I am surprised that anyone would even consider interfering in such things. May I ask why you decided to help me?"
Ioz paused, unsure how to express what the song had meant to him. It had felt like the song had spoken his feelings and even lifted a part of them away, dissolving a part of the bad mood he had been in. "I didn't want to see you lose those coins after earning them so well. Could you teach me how to do what you do?"
"I could hardly refuse; normally I would ask for payment, but after you have suffered on my behalf. Besides, I get the impression that your money does not come easily."
Ioz laughed. "No, but it certainly left easily!"
"Yes, that's the way of it with money. But come now, I will teach you enough of the instrument to make a beginning, and if you want to continue, then you can go and look for a shell like this one and I will show you how to make a taine of your own."

He stayed with the old musician, learning about the taine, until late at night. When the time came for him to leave he was beginning to get drowsy, but the thought of returning back home made him start. His mother would not be happy with him for losing his pay!
This made his steps slow as he returned home, even though he knew that the later he came back, the worse mood his mother would be in. She was a light sleeper, and he could rarely return home without waking her. He'd forgotten his troubles while he was learning about the taine, but now they came back in full force. His stomach felt queasy as he opened the door to the family's house. Sure enough, his mother had awoken and was standing in the main room.
"Well, it's about time you got home, Ioz. Where's your pay?"
Ioz scowled and did not look at her. He said in a low voice, "It was stolen."
Soja's eyes widened. "And how was it that you were careless enough for it to be stolen? It wouldn't have been stolen if you hadn't stayed out all night." Her eyes narrowed now. "Or was it stolen at all? Did you lose it gambling with your friends, or spend it on sweets, or some such silly thing? Come now, tell the truth, or you won't like what happens!"
Not knowing what else to say, he told the truth, although he was sure that she would not be happy with him. "A boy about my age was trying to rob an old street musician. I challenged him, but he hit me before I could do anything, then grabbed my pay as well and ran away." As he said it, it sounded made up even to his own ears.
His mother seemed to hesitate, considering whether he was telling the truth. She apparently decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. "Well, I would have thought my son would have better sense than to interfere with such things. You had nothing to gain, and you could have lost your life! Then what would have become of our family? Bad enough that you lost all that money!"
"Well, it sounds like the family could have managed just fine if it weren't for the money I was earning. The only reason you care about my life is because I bring money to you! You wouldn't care if I ended up like Father!"
Upon hearing the first two sentences, his mother appeared somewhat remorseful, though she also appeared determined not to admit that she regretted her ill-chosen words to her son. But when he mentioned his father, her eyes widened again in anger. Ioz remembered belatedly that his mother never talked about what had happened to his father, and that he was not supposed to know anything about it. It was only recently, upon thinking back to his childhood, that he'd figured out that his father had probably been forcibly taken as crew on some pirate ship-if he'd simply abandoned them, he wouldn't have sent money, and he vaguely remembered his mother and grandmother's surprise and concern when his father hadn't returned one night, seven years ago. For a moment, Ioz was worried that his mother was going to slap him, but instead she simply said, "You don't know anything about it!" and turned to go into her own room.
Ioz went into his room as well. He had not thought that he would be able to sleep after that exchange, but he was so tired that he fell asleep almost as soon as he lay down.

Over the course of the next four years, he often spent time with the old musician (whose name was Belbalkind). Belbalkind helped him to learn about the world of adults, telling stories of his past life, including the time he spent as a pirate, before his sight began to fail. Ioz particularly liked those stories. Though Belbalkind himself expressed regret about leaving his earlier life as fisher, when he was respectable if poor, and often told Ioz of the hardships of sea life and the horror of battles, Ioz's tended to gloss over the danger and hardships in his mind. Belbalkind's life as a pirate seemed glamorous and exciting.
One type of danger that truly did sound horrible, though, was Dark Water. Belbalkind himself had not actually seen Dark Water; it hadn't even been around when he had been a pirate. They'd both started to hear tales of it a couple years after they'd met; mostly from people coming from the far north. Though there didn't seem to be much of it around, and only a few ships every year ever saw it, the sightings were growing more numerous, and had gradually begun to spread southward, based on what Ioz and Belbalkind had heard. Seeing a patch of semisolid black ooze moving around in the water would have been a little unnerving in itself, of course, but some sailors claimed that they had seen nearby vessels swallowed whole, pulled under by the Dark Water, which seemed to be alive. Since the sightings started, every ship that disappeared in the north was thought lost to the Dark Water (even if, as Ioz thought, ships surely must have disappeared both in that and in others before anyone had ever heard of Dark Water). One of Ioz's friends said that he'd heard a sailor talk about a friend who'd seen a ship, in the grip of the Dark Water, shoot a harpoon into the vile stuff in desperation, but it had hit its target, stopped, and then been engulfed; then the Dark Water had similarly pulled down the ship itself. There were no survivors. And (so his friend said) the sailor who'd witnessed it still had nightmares about the screams of the crew being muffled, one by one, as the Dark Water covered their mouths and filled their lungs. People began to call the year in which the first sightings of Dark Water had appeared the Year of the Black Tide, for the morbid predicted that the Dark Water would continue to spread until it filled the entire ocean and the tides ran black.
Ioz and Belbalkind did sometimes trade stories about Dark Water and other horrors, but Ioz still liked hearing about battles better, and Belbalkind, despite his protests that he wished he'd stayed a fisherman, seemed to like to talk about the days when (according to Ioz's impression) Belbalkind was a brave and dangerous fighter, feared by all, admired by women, and liked by all his comrades, all while capturing more treasure than anyone would know what to do with. His interest in the tales about Belbalkind's life as a pirate, so different from the stories he had heard from the village elders as a child, did little to improve his abilities on the taine, nor did the time he spent with his friends or the time that he grudgingly spent working. Belbalkind said that he could soon become skilled with the taine if he would practice it every day, instead of infrequently. Indeed, he thought about doing just that, of making a serious study of the instrument, and maybe even of learning to play the gitar so that he could become a wandering musician. Such a profession would offer almost as much excitement as being a pirate like Belbalkind, but considerably less danger; also, Belbalkind said that gitar players (rather than taine players, with their lower status) "got all the wenches." But wandering musicians were not held in high esteem, nor did they earn much money. Pirates, of course, were not exactly held in high esteem, but they received the respect worthy of a formidable enemy rather than the casual disdain commonly shown to musicians, and although income for musicians and pirates alike was uncertain, a pirate was more likely to become at least temporarily rich by capturing a rich vessel; a musician was in luck if he obtained enough money in the course of the day to buy food for a week. Of course, when Belbalkind did get that much money, he didn't usually spend it on a week's supply of food; Ioz's impression was that he'd generally use it all up that same night carousing.
When Ioz happened to mention the taine to his friends at one point, they thought it a silly thing, and perhaps not quite befitting a real man, so Ioz began to downplay his interest in it when he was with his friends. It was harder for him to conceal it from his mother. She discouraged him from it, but not as strongly as she might have; she thought it a better pursuit than many that he might (and, in fact, did) take up. What really made him more or less abandon the taine was Miri. What he and Miri had in common seemed to consist mainly of a similar sense of humor, an attraction to each other, and a strong sense of irritation at their parents. For most young people in Tayhoj, though, that was more than enough reason to get married. It wasn't so much that Miri disapproved of the taine as that Miri ate up both his time and his money quite rapidly. Miri was also the reason that he stayed in the Isle of Tayhoj so far. Seeing the merchanters and sailors was enough to make many fishermen's sons, including many of Ioz's friends, sail away with some ship--they didn't have the money or connections to become merchanters, but they could become sailors or pirates.
Ioz and Miri were both sixteen when Ioz decided that he had fallen in love. Most of the fisherfolk in his village got married at about this age, although among the upper classes and those that could travel by ship, marriage usually happened later. Everyone, including Ioz and Miri, thought that they would marry soon.

"You should stop spending your time and your money on that Miri girl, Ioz. I've known this girl since she was a child. She's too silly, and she only cares about pretty things. I don't think she values you, or anyone else, any more than she does a pretty toy. You'd think a fisherman's daughter would be more practical. More than once I've seen her eyes follow upper-class men, the kind who could buy her all sorts of trinkets."
"Mother, stop! I don't see why you say that, beyond the fact that you think she's silly and you think you've seen her look at other men." Ioz was annoyed, but he completed this last part uneasily. It seemed to him that he'd noticed the same things as his mother-her emerald eyes tended to linger on flashy pieces of jewelry or on the most expensive silks that his mother wove, or even on other young men, most rich young men--but such things were natural for young women to do, weren't they? In truth, he had been glad enough in the beginning to buy the jewelry that caught her eye, much to his mother's exasperation, but now she seemed to expect such presents more frequently than he could really afford. He cut off his thoughts abruptly, a corner of his mind knowing that if he continued them they would probably lead to the realization that his mother was right. Without another word, he left to go and see Miri.
After he met Miri they went into town to look around. ("There's little enough else to do around here," Miri had complained. Ioz could not agree more.) As they walked down the street, they passed one of the many small stands that sold jewelry-affordable for a merchant, but expensive for a fisherman.
"Ioz, look at that comb-it's so beautiful!" She looked sideways at him, expectantly. So did the merchant. It was not the sort of comb to straighten one's hair with, but an ornamental one for holding hair back, and it would indeed have looked pretty in Miri's long, black hair. Ioz knew what she wanted, and usually in such a situation he would have offered to buy it for her... but his mother's words this morning had put him ill at ease, so that he did indeed begin to doubt her loyalty to him; besides, his mother was right in that he could not afford to continually buy her such things.
"Yes, it is very pretty," he said neutrally, hoping she would take the hint.
"You won't buy it for me?" she asked in a hurt voice. Ioz dreaded what would ensue, but at the same time, he was glad of the excuse to tell her his annoyance at her, for he was not used to concealing his resentment when it concerned anyone other than Miri.
"Miri, I buy you a lot of things. You already have more than enough jewelry! Sometimes I wonder if you love me as much as the things I buy you!"
At this, Miri burst into tears. This was why he tended to keep resentment and anger hid from Miri; he was used to angry responses, from his mother or his sister or his friends, but he never knew what to do when Miri cried like this. It made him feel guilty even when he was sure he had done nothing wrong. Her tears almost convinced him to buy the comb anyway; only his certainty that he was in the right and his earlier annoyance at her kept him from doing so.
He had looked to the side uncomfortably when Miri had started to cry. As he turned to look back at her again, he noticed that the expectant look on the merchant's face was still there. If he hadn't been decided before, he was now. "Come on, Miri," he said, pulling at her arm somewhat roughly. But she pulled away.
"No, Ioz, I can see what's happening. If you won't even do this one little thing for me, it's obvious that you don't love me any more!" With that, she turned away from him towards the direction of her home. Again, he almost went after her to apologize, but he didn't like apologizing to anybody, even Miri; besides, it was true. He told himself that she'd recover from her hurt tearfulness soon enough, and maybe now she wouldn't expect him to buy every little trinket that caught her eye. Anyway, he began to suspect that she wasn't so much hurt as trying to manipulate him.

A few days later she stopped by his family's house, saying that she was sorry that she'd gotten upset over so small a thing, and she had been expecting him to buy too many things for her. Ioz felt relieved, thinking that this particular problem had been solved for good. But about a week later, he noticed her wearing an armband that was a little more expensive than what he would usually buy her; it was shaped like a serpent, gold with garnet eyes and intricately crafted scales; it was unusual and very striking. Ioz was sure he would have remembered if he'd bought it for her, but it looked entirely unfamiliar to him; they hadn't been together that long, and he hadn't bought her that many presents; if he'd bought it for her, he would have known. And surely her parents would never have bought her such a thing..
A chill of foreboding passed over Ioz, but he tried to make it sound like an idle question as he asked, "Miri, where did you get that bracelet?"
Miri paused just a little longer than was natural. "Ioz, you bought it for me, don't you remember?"
"No, I don't remember. When?"
"Um." she paused, looking a little nervous--but maybe she was just confused. "It was about two months ago. During the Davin's Day Festival." Ioz was not afraid of confrontation. But even though he was sure that she was lying to him, he felt a brief temptation to say he believed her, forget this whole incident, and tell himself that it couldn't be what it seemed like. It would be so much easier. He loved Miri, and he didn't want to break up with her. And if he was right, and she was cheating on him, how could he face his friends? They would tease him about this, as men whose wives or girlfriends had cheated on them were usually teased in this town, and he'd have to laugh it off and pretend he wasn't bothered by their suggestions of inadequacy-he could hear them now: "So, Ioz, in spite of you spending all that money on your little girlfriend, she had to go behind your back to find someone man enough to satisfy her?" He didn't think that that was the reason she'd been cheating on him, but what if it was? He was not used to self-doubt, and these kinds of thoughts bothered him. And it was bad enough having to face both his friends and his own self- doubt, but how would he be able to bear it when his mother told him that she had been right about Miri, and that he should have listened to her? The worst part was that she had been right. Still, he thought, gathering his resolve, it was impossible ignore this. The way that other people would act when they found out what had happened was just a necessary evil, and in any case it would be an even worse blow to his pride if other people noticed what Miri was doing and they saw that he had looked the other way while Miri cheated on him. What if she started crying again? She almost certainly would. But he was too angry to feel any strong sense of pity for her, even if she had deserved any. Despite this, he knew that he wouldn't be so angry as to hit her. You just didn't hit women; hitting Miri would be like hitting a small child: neither one had much chance of defending itself.
Still, even now, when he was sure that Miri had been lying to him, it was hard to look at her and be angry. He had loved her! He knew that it was probably just pretense, but her delicate-featured, almost childlike face showed only a sort of hurt confusion. In an almost unsure tone, he began. "I don't believe you. I know that I would have remembered that. Why are you lying to me?" When she didn't answer, he continued. "You have another man, don't you--someone rich?" He saw her eyes flicker at this last question. Any remnant of doubt he had was gone.
Miri had recovered her equilibrium, though. "Ioz, how can you say such things?" she said plaintively.
"How can you do such things?!"
"I haven't done anything!" she exclaimed in a hurt voice that bordered on whining. Ioz just looked at her.
Miri, seeing that her protestations were not working, decided to try another tactic.
"Ioz, I really love you. I just can't live without nice things. This was the only way that I could get them, and still be with you. I thought that this way, we could still be together. Really, I'm only doing this for the money! I still love you!"
"Noy Borca! At least admit to what you've done without making excuses! You expect me to believe that you were thinking about me when you decided to do this? You-" You never loved me, was what Ioz had been going to say next, but his throat tightened in anguish at this thought and he could not say the words. Instead, he covered his sorrow in anger and turned away before she could guess at how deeply he'd been hurt by her unfaithfulness. After all that had happened, at least she would not think that he was weak.
"Ioz." Miri tried one last time. She really did look hurt, but...
"Don't speak to me. Calling you a whore would be praise: at least prostitutes are honest about what they want. They don't try to make you think they love you when all they care about is your money. And they're less expensive."
At this, she raised her hand as if to slap him-amazing that all she could think about was the insult to her, after what she'd done to him, he thought-but he caught her hand. "Now is not the time to provoke me, woman. Be still, and quit while you're ahead." This was the woman he had thought himself in love with? How could he have not seen how self-centered she was before this? Glad of the excuse to show anger instead of grief, he turned and walked away before his emotional control broke; he certainly didn't want Miri to see him shed tears.
Ioz did not want anyone to see him right now. He needed to be alone so that he could deal with this and regain his composure. There weren't very many places that were particularly isolated on the Isle of Tayhoj, though. He decided to go out on his fishing boat. Hopefully he could get far enough away from other people that they couldn't see him; somehow the thought of other people even looking at him right now seemed too much to bear, for he would imagine mockery and reproach in their eyes even if there was none. Then he could give way to tears-something that he would rather die than do if there were any witnesses.
Away from observers, he allowed his thoughts to linger on what he had lost. True, Miri herself was not really a loss. What he had lost was a Miri who had never really existed except in his mind, an idealization of the real Miri. He thought back to the day that he had first really noticed Miri. Growing up on the small island together, he had known who she was since childhood, but he had barely known more about her than her name. But one day when he was in the town he noticed her near her mother as her mother walked around the market. At first he did not recognize her; he would have thought that she was a merchanter if not for the fact that she was with her mother. Ioz pretended to look at the vendors' stalls while sneaking glances at Miri. He noticed that she seemed to be doing the same thing. He felt surprised and somewhat self-conscious, but not as much as some boys his age might have, as he had been quick to mature physically and considered himself good-looking. His surprise deepened as he noticed that she seemed to be edging away from her mother and towards him.
"Hello, Ioz, I haven't seen you in a while," she said, as Ioz struggled to maintain eye contact with her. He was very conscious of her eyes on him.
"Um, yes." he replied, wishing he could come up with something a little more clever. "It's surprising we haven't seen each other in so long, when we're on this boring little speck of an island."
"Yeah, don't you wish you could just leave? It seems like almost anywhere would be better than here," she said, glancing disdainfully at the marketplace. "It's so small, I wouldn't be surprised if a bad storm could flood the island." They both smiled, mutual adolescent bitterness at the unfairness of the world, mutual agreement, and mutual attraction making the comment more amusing than it actually was. But then Miri's mother called her. Ioz watched her as she walked away, admiring her figure and the way that her long black hair flowed down her back, then glanced up to see Miri's mother looking at him with a mixture of warning and disapproval. But the disapproval of both of their mothers had only made Ioz and Miri more intent to continue seeing each other. Ioz had turned to go home, thinking about Miri as he walked-mostly thinking about how much of her legs had been laid bare by her skirt, and about the way she had looked at him, lust barely concealed.

When evening came, he needed to bring the boat back in to shore, so he did, even though his mother was bound to ask him about the fact that he had not a single fish to show for his time out at sea. He felt a little bit better now; although he still was not happy with life at the moment, he could think about waking up the next day without dreading it too much. Right now he was thinking about simply going to sleep for a while, because by this time he was exhausted, and he felt that sleep would be the best cure for the rawness of his nerves. He did not feel like listening to his mother scold him for his supposed laziness today on the boat.
"Ioz, what were you doing out there this afternoon? It doesn't look like you've caught a single fish! There's plenty around right now, too- even the little children with their poles can do better than you did today! What is wrong with you?!"
As was not unusual for Ioz, his temper snapped. "Maybe I just had bad luck today! It's no business of yours what I was doing!"
Soja grew angry in response. "Of course it's my business! I'm the only one making sure that this family doesn't starve! You don't even seem to care, though!" Soja was not particularly perceptive, and she did not see anything to this burst of anger beyond teenage moodiness and a generally irritable personality. However, Ioz's self-consciousness at this moment was great enough that he expected it to be obvious that he was having a problem, and an important one; as a teenager in love, it seemed that nothing in the universe could rival the importance of the interactions between himself and Miri. Thus, if the family did, in fact, starve, at the moment it seemed only of minor consequence.
"I bet that you wouldn't care if I starved, as long as you and Solia were all right!"
"Ioz, that's not true! How dare you say such a thing, after I've spent all this time looking after you, with no man to help me!"
"You've got Father's gold! That's probably all you wanted from him anyway. If you cared about him as much as you seem to care about me, that's the only reason you'd want him around, so he can help you. You don't look after me so much as send me off to work for you, which I suppose you think of as 'keeping me out of trouble'. Do you really expect me to thank you for that?"
"And I suppose you think you'd be better off without me!? Do you think you could survive on your own?" she said, full of injured pride, her dark eyes challenging him. She'd given him an ultimatum. Doing anything less than leaving the house and living on his own now would be a surrender; it would be the same as saying that she was right and he was wrong. Soja was sure that, although he might argue, and he might say that he could do better on his own, he would be forced to tacitly admit that she was right, because he couldn't very well just leave.
But at the moment, leaving home sounded rather appealing to Ioz. Besides not wanting to give in to his mother during this particular fight, he didn't really want to be around when his mother found out the circumstances of the split between himself and Miri, since he was sure his mother would remind him of how she had predicted this--nor did he want to face his friends and neighbors. But most importantly, he did not want to stay in a place as small as Tayhoj where he was guaranteed to run into Miri with an uncomfortable frequency. And of course, in the background, there was the call of a world outside that was much bigger and more interesting than the small island where he had grown up. So, after a long pause he said, "Yes. I do think that I would be better off on my own." With that, he went to gather up what belongings he could claim for his own, along with slightly less that what he thought was his fair share of the remaining gold his father had left them-to truly show that he could take care of himself and did not need any help from his mother. But he was the eldest son, and Solia would inherit his mother's weaving business, so he took about two thirds of it. He passed by his mother again, but he refused to look at her, and she did not speak.
When he was a couple yards away from the door, he saw Solia run out after him. He was relieved; he had wanted to say goodbye to her, but he had been too embarrassed to do so while his mother was in the next room and could listen to him. However angry he might be with his mother, he did not want to leave without saying goodbye to Solia. "Ioz, don't go!" his nine-year-old sister cried out, tears in her eyes. She ran up to hug him.
Seeing her like that, looking so small and sad, he almost wanted to stay. His little sister was too young for them to be truly close, but he'd always felt protective towards her. "Solia, I can't stay here any more. It's not your fault--I just can't." He thought of his fight with his mother, and how she seemed to value him only for the money he brought in, and also back on what had happened today between him and Miri. He was afraid right now that Solia's naiveté and good nature could lead her to have similar problems. Was there anything he could do to prevent this, now that he would no longer be around? "I know that Mother will want you to help her, and probably your friends, too, at one point or another. But don't trust anyone who wants anything from you. Take care of yourself first. Look out for number one. Goodbye, Solia." With that, he gently pushed his sister away from him. He ran for a while to keep her from stopping him again, and maybe making him change his mind. As he slowed to a walk, the exhaustion he'd been feeling just before he'd walked into the house hit him again. Now what do I do? he thought to himself.
* * *
The Shadow Moon Rising was looking for crew. Its last captain, a canny old woman named Migga, had died in battle recently. Migga had, for the most part, been a good leader. She had been cruel, but fair--except when it came to her daughter, Megara. Migga had never denied Megara anything she wanted. As a result, Migga had named Megara as her successor long before she died, and Megara was the new captain of the Moon Rising, despite the fact that she did not have the support of most of the crew. Migga had been willing to risk herself in battle, but whenever she thought she could get away with it, Megara let the crew take all the risks. Megara had inherited her mother's cruelty, but none of her fairness. Megara was not the strategist that her mother had been, either. In short, Megara was completely lacking in any of the qualifications necessary for being a captain of a pirate ship, except for the ability to intimidate her crew, and even in that endeavor her skills were not always adequate for the task at hand. Megara was strong, with wide shoulders and narrow hips for a woman, but was only of average height and had an otherwise average build. Her only other strengths were her rough-sounding, intimidating voice and an almost foolhardy confidence that allowed her to be bold and to make bluffs easily. She would not have been equal to the task if it were not for two blindly loyal crewmen named Rahat and Rud, both of whom were large and rather ox-like in both build and personality. Rahat also had four arms, making him even more intimidating. How much of their loyalty was simply what remained from their loyalty to Migga, and how much of it was because they were both sleeping with Megara, they did not reveal; but it was lucky for all concerned that they were not averse to sharing; even having two men was not always quite enough variety for Megara, especially since she found them to be average-looking, and she was not in the habit of denying any of her impulses.
But even Megara realized the difficulty in trying to keep disloyal members of the crew working for her. Rud and Rahat aside, she knew that much of the crew was quite unhappy with the change in leadership, and Rud and Rahat might be the only ones who would actively support her in the event of a mutiny. It was better to let those who wished to do so leave the ship, and pick up a new crew somewhere, hopefully made up of people like Rahat and Rud who would not question her or develop ambitions. And so, after Megara had begun to sense the unrest of the crew, the Shadow Moon Rising put in to the nearest port, which happened to be the Isle of Tayhoj. It was not, perhaps, the ideal place for the discontented members of a pirate crew to look for a new ship, but Megara was not particularly interested in their welfare, and it was a cheap place to buy basic supplies; the Shadow Moon Rising did not have the manpower to make laying siege to an entire town worthwhile, and it was not always possible to tell what a ship was carrying before you captured it: you might find twenty years' supply of cinder sand but not a single piece of fruit.
Since the Shadow Moon Rising was not about to lay siege to the town, they had no reason to conceal that they were from a pirate ship looking for crew. Only the largest towns and islands had Securitat, and even those seldom considered pirate ships in port to be worth their resources to capture unless they were actually threatening the town, or unless the Securitat themselves were hoping for easy spoils. Megara did not expect to find more than a skeleton crew for the Shadow Moon Rising in this small island, but she could pick up enough to take them someplace else. So she began spreading the word around that a pirate ship was looking for crew, seeing who'd be interested in going with them. Although at this point anybody competent and not disposed to mutiny would be acceptable, Megara hoped that at least one good-looking male would number among the new crew. She always found males the easiest to handle, anyway.
She brought back two new recruits the first night they were there. They were perhaps a bit past their prime, and they weren't the most imposing of men--one was tall and skinny, the other short and slight--but they afforded her the proper respect, they knew their way around a ship, they seemed to have the kind of cowardly meanness that meant they'd be good for attacking unarmed merchant ships, but wouldn't expect her to take the bigger risks necessary to attack a larger ship carrying highly valuable goods. Nor would they be likely to challenge her. In fact, unless their fighting skills were something extraordinary, neither looked like they'd have more than one chance in three of beating her in a fair fight. Not that she intended to let them have a fair fight with her, if she could help it.
After picking up those two men, she decided to stay in port for one more day in case gossip about her ship being in port reached any new and receptive ears. Besides, she didn't feel like going back into the cramped ship just yet, even if it meant spending money at an inn. She was enjoying the soft, comfortable bed, and of course, better food than they could usually get at sea. She was rewarded for her "patience" the next evening. She was in the Inn of Tayhoj's common room when a boy of about sixteen years old approached her. Despite his youth, he seemed much more confident than the two men she'd incorporated into her crew the day before. In fact, she might have been offended by his lack of deference if it weren't for the fact that, in her opinion at least, he made up for it with his good looks. The boy wore what he probably thought was a dignified scowl, but on a boy his age it looked rather humorous, she thought. She turned her amusement into a welcoming smile that was almost flirtatious as the boy said, "I heard you were looking for crew." "You heard right," she said. The naturally rough sound of her voice commanded a certain respect even when, as was the case now, the turn of her thoughts might not have encouraged it. She idly played with the large bow tying back her pale blond hair and said, "You ever worked on a sailing ship before?" The boy's expression darkened even more. "No." "Well, don't worry, we can teach you quick enough. What kind of skills do you have?" "I've mostly fished my whole life. I also play the taine some, but I doubt that that's all that useful..." "And, tell me, uh..." she paused. Had the boy said his name? "Ioz," he supplied. "Tell me, Ioz, have you ever been off this island?" The boy looked a little embarrassed. "No." "Well, once you sign on with me, we won't be turning around for you to go home. Remember that, Ioz. Also, my name's Megara-daughter of Migga-but in general you should call me Captain. Will you be able to handle that?" she finished sweetly-or at least, as sweetly as she could get her voice could sound.

Ioz managed to hide his resentment at the somewhat patronizing sound of her last statement. He wasn't that much younger than Megara; she didn't look more than twenty-five, probably more like twenty. "Yes, Captain." Just what he needed. As soon as he got away from his mother, he found another woman to boss him around. But right now, the sooner he could get off the Isle of Tayhoj, the better. Besides, even he had to admit that he was feeling more than usually irritable right now, given all that had happened today, so maybe he was judging her a little harshly.

Before going on the Shadow Moon Rising for good, he went to say goodbye to Belbalkind. "Megara, daughter of Migga? I've heard of old Migga, a time or two. From what I've been told, she was a good leader as long as you didn't get on her bad side. If you did..." His voice trailed off. "Watch out, Ioz. Having a fight with your captain isn't the same as having a fight with your mother. You challenge your mother, she'll get mad, but if you challenge a captain, you're not likely to see the next port. I wonder if you know just what you're getting into, Ioz. It's a rough life." "I know what it's like; you've told me often enough!" He paused. He didn't want to leave Belbalkind angry with him, like his mother was. "I know it's a difficult life, but I'll be careful--and even if something happens to me, at least I'll get to see something besides this speck of an island!" he said cheerfully. "Goodbye, Belbalkind." "Well, I guess I can't stop you. Goodbye, Ioz. May Kunda protect you!"

The next morning, the Shadow Moon Rising left the Isle of Tayhoj. Ioz could not say that he was sorry to go. He had to admit that he was just a little nervous about going away, and maybe a bit sad about leaving his friends behind, although he hadn't been close enough to any of them to want to show that he would miss them by seeking them out to say goodbye to them. That could be seen as a sign of weakness; now, more than ever, he needed to look tough. And of course, he would miss Solia... but he had decided that he was not going to miss his mother. It was her fault that he had to leave. As the Isle of Tayhoj passed out of sight, he thought of the stories he and Belbalkind had shared of Dark Water. Although he was not cold, he shivered.