“Laura!” he screamed over and over, his voice becoming a hoarse cry of despair.
Captain Norp bellowed orders at the other end of the ship, but James could see that little could be done with the Luu’tre tilted thirty degrees on the port side. Two sailors at the other end of the incline lost their footing and slid wildly. He watched them, praying that they wouldn’t plunge into the sea and breathed a sigh of relief when someone managed to snatch the rope the two sailors held on to from the air and tie it to a beam. Both men jerked upward; one of them lost his hold and continued downward. He smashed into the railing and by a stroke of luck managed to hang on. Another sailor repelled down from the mast and eased the poor wretch into a safer position. The fallen sailor clutched his ribs, groaning.
“James!” Pea cried from behind and then appeared at James’ side. “Do you see her?” The Littlekind peered over the edge between the ship and the railing.
James watched the waters spraying white vapor and smashing against the reef. “No,” he said. He couldn’t see anything in the rough seas. A violent riptide ran through the narrow passage. Laura was somewhere below and the thought of her drowning brought such pain to his heart that he clutched the railing until his hands bled. Where is she? He wanted to scream he was sorry, even though he couldn’t explain why he felt that way.
Scanning the waves, James searched for anything that looked like a person. The frothy waters made it hard to differentiate the coral from the water and the water from anything else churning below, especially under the shadow of the storm. Winds ravaged the ship, rocking it against the coral now, splashing water high across the bow and forcing the crew to wrap the sails lest they be ripped completely away, dragging the masts along with them.
Then something caught his attention. A strange shape that stood out against the frothy waters. Maybe it was Laura, or maybe a bit of coral that had been dislodged by the rough seas. It bobbed in the water along the edge of the coral, a pale thing barely visible against the waves. The sea pushed it against the edges of the coral.
“There!” he screamed, jutting his hand out and thrusting a finger down. “I think I see her!”
“Are you sure?” Pea said.
James looked over at the Littlekind; Pea returned the gaze. He tried to tell Pea that he wasn’t sure with that look, only, what difference did it make? They didn’t have much time either way and if it didn’t turn out to be Laura she would be long dead soon enough.
“Alright.” At that, Pea slipped away and Darl slid into view.
“If that’s her, we’ll get her,” the old man said, clapping James hard on the shoulder. James bit his lip, stifling his cries of pain as Darl continued to bat his shoulder. His shoulders ached as if the wounds on his hands had moved there too, but he wouldn’t tell the others that—couldn’t tell them.
A moment later and Darl left, replaced by Iliad, who skidded down the wood surface of the Luu’tre and appeared by James’ side, carrying with him his bow and a single arrow attached to a rope. “We’ve got one chance at this,” he said through gritted teeth, “and then she drowns.”
“What are you going to do?” James said, pursing his lips in anticipation.
“It’s called being insane.” Iliad drew the arrow and let it fly. The rope hissed as it was dragged through the air, jerking violently one way or another as the wild winds of the storm blew against it. The arrow curved suddenly, yanking the rope into a wide “u”, before crashing through a foot of water and making contact with the reef. Iliad gave one quick pull on the rope and said, “And I don’t recommend it.” He immediately walked away, leaving James to stare down into the turbulent sea and the long rope that was now being pulled taut—though, despite that, it still wobbled in the wind and dribbled rain.
James turned around and almost wished he hadn’t. The rope had been tied in an endless collection of complicated knots around the central mast of the Luu’tre. To make matters more complicated, four of Captain Norp’s crew were now holding the rope firmly as if playing a one-sided game of tug-o-war. Iliad was nearby, fastening a pair of thick leather gloves—a mottled brown and gray color that made them look particularly old—over his hands.
“You’re not going to do what I think you’re going to do?” James said, widening his eyes as it dawned on him what was going on.
“Depends what you think he’s going to do,” Pea said, scurrying around the mast and double-checking the knots—an occasional burst of silver magic forced the rope to re-knot itself, becoming even more tightly bound. “I’d hazard to guess that tap dancing and aggressive berry picking are not likely to be what he’s going to do.”
“To answer your question,” Iliad broke in and turned to face James. “Yes. I’m going to do something I probably shouldn’t do. And it will probably kill me.
“Dare I ask if it will succeed?” James smiled faintly, recalling the last time he had asked a similar question.
Iliad got the joke. “Only if you want the truth, James. I’m afraid I’m in no mood for a good fib.” Then Iliad held out a strip of oiled leather, gritted his teeth and slid down the tilted ship, reaching out his leg at the last moment to propel himself over the edge. James could only watch helplessly as the nimble man disappeared. He closed his eyes tight and held his breath, pumping blood hard through his veins and praying he wouldn’t hear the sound of Iliad’s screams as he plunged into the depths, just like Laura only moments before.
But when he heard a thick, wooden thud, he knew that somehow Iliad had survived. He opened one eye and saw that the rope slid along the railing for a moment, supported by several of Norp’s men, and then became still. His heart stopped thumping against his chest; his breathing came slow. A thick hand gripped his shoulder—it was Darl, doing what Darl always did: confuse him with oddly un-Darl-like gestures. Something quickly came over him as a thick gust of wind pushed stinging drops of icy rain into his face; he had to see what was going on.
Moving away from Darl—and the others, Triska and Pea holding firm to the raised semi-dome over the cargo bay, where items could be dropped by wooden crane into the belly of the Luu’tre—James cautiously slid, knees bent and hands outstretch as if he were trying to learn to ski. He hit the railing with a thud, but managed to keep himself form tipping over. Now, with a clear view of the reef and all else below the deck of the ship, he could see Iliad working his way down, sliding on the leather strip down the rope past the portholes for the cannons and into the swirling mass of the ocean, .
James held his breath until he couldn’t hold it anymore, and then breathed rapidly as he watched his companion descend. Soon there came a point where visibility was low, where the waves crashed or where the wind blew up huge walls of water vapor. One moment he could see Iliad continuing down, and the next he couldn’t, and all the while he remained fixated on the object he had seen, the thing that could be Laura—it too disappearing with the vaporous sea water.
Something struck the ship at that moment, a resounding boom and crack, followed some moments later by another boom. James looked up as the shockwave dispersed into the water below and saw what had struck them: another ship, a darker ship flying the colors of Luthien—a crimson red eye.
When James looked down again to check on Iliad he found that the rope had gone slack, flapping in the wind. “Man overboard,” he roared. His words were repeated throughout the ship and all he could do was watch helplessly as the thick mist from the waves covered everything.