He went to sea early in his life, and his first captain was the legendary Dalto Big-Nose, a man whose very name struck terror into the heart of every Trogite sea captain who sailed the northern sea.
Now, the Trogites are an avaricious race, eager to snatch things that rightfully belong to others but which they haven’t gotten around to discovering yet. At some time in the remote past a Trogite explorer in search of deposits of tin or copper which might prove profitable had discovered a peculiar region far back in the western reaches of the Land of Shaan, which stands to the west of the Land of Maag. The Maags grudgingly conceded that the Trogite explorer was a courageous fellow, since the natives of the Land of Shaan felt a moral compulsion to eat everything—or everybody—they killed. Being killed is one thing, but being eaten is quite another.
The Trogite explorer purchased the friendship of the savages of Shaan with a few worthless trinkets, and they had led him to that region where the rivers had sandy bottoms. Many rivers have sandy bottoms, but the sand in the rivers of interior Shaan is comprised mostly of flecks of pure gold. Word about the gold in the rivers of Shaan soon got out, and adventurers from all over the known world rushed there to claim their rightful share. After a few seasons, though, the word got out that adventurers who went to the Land of Shaan never came back.
The enthusiasm dropped off noticeably.
The source of the Trogite gold was well known, but the perils involved in seeking it were even better known. Gold, however, isn’t really worth very much unless the owner can take it someplace where he can spend it. The Trogites came up with a quick solution to that problem. They started building ships to carry their wealth back to the Land of Trog. They were large ships, wide of beam and deep of hull, and they tended to wallow rather than sail. Maag vessels were narrow and swift. Moreover, the wealthy Trogites tended to be miserly, so they neglected to hire warriors to guard their treasure ships.
The Maags more or less abandoned fishing at that point. The Trogites winnowed gold from the rivers of Shaan, hauled it down to the coast, and put it aboard their wallowing treasure ships. Then the treasure ships sailed out to the northern sea, where the Maags waited for them.
Sorgan Hook-Beak had received an extensive education from Captain Big-Nose in the fine art of relieving Trogite treasure ships of all that excess weight. As a young man he’d squandered away his earnings in revelry, naturally. Young sailors are enthusiastic revelers, but after a few seasons, Sorgan realized that the captain’s share of the ship’s earnings was much, much larger than the share of an ordinary seaman, so he began to religiously set aside half of all his earnings, and he had soon saved enough to be able to buy his own ship, the Seagull.
The Seagull was not really in very good shape when Sorgan bought her from the crusty old pirate he’d happened to meet in a seaside tavern in the Maag port of Weros. Her sails were ragged, and she leaked quite noticeably. She was about the best Sorgan could afford at that time, though. Had the old man who owned her been completely sober during their negotiations, he’d probably have held out for more money, but his purse had just come up empty, and Sorgan had shrewdly delayed making his final offer until the poor old fellow’s tongue had been hanging out. He also shook his purse frequently while they were haggling, pretending that it was nothing more than an absentminded habit.
The musical jingle of money played no small part in the tipsy old man’s acceptance of Sorgan’s final offer.
After he’d bought the Seagull, Sorgan had persuaded two of his former shipmates, Ox and Kryda Ham-Hand, to join him as first and second mates. Their rank hadn’t really meant all that much just then, though. What Sorgan had really needed at that point in time had been their help in making the Seagull more seaworthy.
It had taken the three of them more than a year to finish the repairs, largely because they’d frequently run out of money. Whenever that had happened, they’d had to suspend operations and take to the streets near the waterfront in search of drunk sailors whose purses still had a few coins left in them.
Eventually, the Seagull had been marginally restored, and then the three had been obliged to haunt the waterfront again to find a crew.
The Seagull was a full-sized Maag longship, a hundred and ten feet long and twenty-five feet wide at the beam, so she needed a full-sized crew. Sorgan had done his best to keep the size of his crew down to a minimum, but eighty men had been about as low as he could go. He’d given a bit of thought to reducing the number of oarsmen, but Ox and Ham-Hand had protested violently, pointing out that fewer oarsmen would mean slower speed, and a faster ship would bring in more money.
And so it was that now the Seagull roamed the waters of the northern sea, looking for targets of opportunity.
It was about midsummer of an otherwise unimportant year when the Seagull encountered one of those summer squalls that seldom last very long—two days, perhaps, no more than three. This one lingered longer, however, and the Seagull’s crew endured bad weather for almost a week, helplessly watching as the howling gale tore away the rigging and ripped the sail to shreds.
When the gale moved off, the Seagull’s crew labored long and hard to make her even marginally seaworthy again.
Captain Hook-Beak took it in stride. No ship ever sails on a perpetually sunny sea, so bad weather was simply something that had to be endured. Of course, the captain of a ship is seldom required to repair the rigging or patch the sail. Those chores are the duties of ordinary seamen, so Captain Hook-Beak retired to his cabin to catch up on his sleep.
It didn’t quite turn out that way, though. Despite the fact that the Seagull was many leagues from land, a pesky fly had somehow found its way into Hook-Beak’s cabin, and the buzzing sound of its wings was just enough to keep the captain awake. The times when it was not flying were even worse. He could actually feel its eyes on him, watching his every move, and that was much worse than the brainless buzzing. Try though he might, Sorgan Hook-Beak couldn’t sleep.
Nothing at all seemed to be going right this season.
After her rigging and sail had been repaired, the Seagull got under way again, and she was running before the wind some distance out from the coast of Maag when Ox spotted a Trogite merchant vessel hull-down on the horizon. “Sail ho, Cap’n!” he roared in a voice that might well have shattered glass a league away.
“Where away?” Hook-Beak demanded.
“Two points off the starboard bow, Cap’n!” Ox shouted.
Hook-Beak relinquished the tiller to Kryda Ham-Hand and hurried forward to join Ox in the bow. “Show me,” he told his burly first mate.