“That’s why we’re having this little talk, Torl,” Sorgan replied. “I think I’d feel a lot more comfortable if I had a fair number of my kinsmen close by when I start showing the gold I’ve got stacked up down in the hold to other Maags.”
“That makes a certain amount of sense, I guess. Just where is this place, Sorgan?”
“It’s a fair distance off to the east.”
“I take it that this lady who’s got all the gold hasn’t got any kind of real army to work with?” Torl asked.
“I think it might surprise you, Torl. This is Longbow, and I’ve never seen anybody who could even come close to him when it comes to shooting arrows, but I guess Lady Zelana doesn’t have enough people to fight off her enemy. That’s where we come in. Right now, though, I want to get the word out to as many kinsmen as I can locate. Do you happen to know where Malar and Skell are right now?”
Torl scratched the side of his face. “The last I heard, Malar was whooping it up with his crew down in Gaiso. They had a stroke of luck here recently, so they’re celebrating. You know how our cousin is. Once he starts to party, it goes on until he runs out of money.”
“Do you think you could get word to him that I want to talk over a business opportunity with him?”
“I’ll see what I can do. We’ll have to wait until he’s sober, though.”
“Up the coast in Kormo. His ship needed repairs after he came up against a Trogite ship that rammed her off the northeast coast. That’s something you should know about, Sorgan. The Trogites have taken to reinforcing the bows of their ships, and they’ve added what they call a ram. It’s a real thick pole with the front end cased in iron. It sticks out in front of the Trogite ship, and it’s right at the waterline. The Trogites don’t just give up so easy when they see one of us coming anymore. They row their ships right into us now, and that ram puts a hole a man could walk through right in the side of any ship it smashes into. From what I hear, the Trogites have already sunk a half-dozen or so Maag longships with those cursed rams.”
“That’s terrible!” Sorgan exclaimed.
“Trogites have always been terrible, Sorgan. I thought you knew that. . . . You promised to let me and the other captains look at all this gold you’ve managed to pick up.”
“All right, but then we’ll need to start getting word out to the rest of our family. I’ll sleep a lot better if I’ve got a dozen or so ships that belong to people I can trust anchored around the Seagull. After you see what I’ve got stacked up in the hold, you’ll understand why.”
Longbow considered what he had just heard. The Maags, it appeared, had a very primitive culture. Their technology was more advanced, certainly, but their social structure had a long way to go.
At first light a few days later, Longbow came out of the cabin at the stern of the Seagull to take a look at the weather, and he saw Red-Beard leaning against the railing at the bow. “You’re up early, Red-Beard,” he said as he joined the man of White-Braid’s tribe.
Red-Beard shrugged. “Habit, I guess. I like to look at the sky before the sun comes up. Do you fish very much, Longbow?”
“Once in a while. I really prefer hunting.” Longbow hesitated. “I noticed something the other day when Hook-Beak was talking with one of his relatives. You’ve spent quite a bit of time with the ordinary Maag sailors. Does it seem to you that family’s more important to them than tribe?”
“I don’t think they even have tribes, Longbow, and as far as I’ve been able to discover, there’s no such thing as tribe—or customs, or rules, or chiefs. Their weapons are better than ours, but aside from that, they’re absolute savages.”
“I sort of saw things much the same way. Customs might be a bit tedious, but they do seem to hold a tribe together.”
“I don’t know if you’re aware of this, Longbow,” Red-Beard said then, “but you’re quite famous all over the Domain of our Zelana.”
“I don’t really stray very far, Red-Beard, so I wasn’t aware of that.”
“You can tell me that it’s none of my business, if you want to, but why do you spend all of your time killing the creatures of the Wasteland?”
Longbow hesitated, but Red-Beard was about the closest thing to a friend he had here. “It was something that happened a long time ago,” he explained. “There was a young woman in our tribe named Misty-Water, and she and I had decided that we should mate. On the day of the ceremony, she went into the forest to bathe and dress herself in her new deerskin. While she was alone in the forest, one of the poison-fanged creatures of the Wasteland killed her. Since that day, I live only for vengeance.”
“I’m sorry, Longbow,” Red-Beard apologized. “I didn’t really mean to pry like that. I understand now, though. You want to kill them all, don’t you?”
“If I possibly can,” Longbow admitted. “No day is really complete for me if I haven’t killed at least one of those beasts. That’s what finally persuaded me to join Zelana and come here to the Land of the Maags. Little Eleria suggested that if I had Maags to help me, I could kill thousands of the servants of the Vlagh—or maybe even kill them all.”
“That might take some doing, from what I’ve heard about those beasts,” Red-Beard suggested. “Would it offend you if I kill a few dozen of them? Just as a sign of friendship, of course. It’s courteous to kill the enemies of one’s friends, isn’t it?”
Longbow smiled briefly. “It wouldn’t bother me in the least, Red-Beard. Enjoy yourself. One thing, though. When we reach the Wasteland, remember that That-Called-the-Vlagh is mine. It’s my thought that the spirit of Misty-Water might be pleased if I placed the head of the Vlagh at the foot of her grave as a sign of my continued love for her.”
“I wouldn’t dream of interfering, friend Longbow,” Red-Beard declared. “Would it be all right if I held your cloak for you while you chop That-Called-the-Vlagh into small pieces?”
“I think I could stand that, friend Red-Beard,” Longbow replied with mock solemnity.
Then they both laughed.
Sorgan managed to gather several of his relatives about the Seagull as he continued to recruit unrelated Maag ship captains in the harbor of Weros. Longbow had been called upon several times to demonstrate his proficiency with his bow, and the Maags all treated him with a great deal of respect by the time the growing fleet left Weros to move south along the coast of Maag. The Seagull hove to each time she came to a coastal village where there were more than two or three ships anchored in the harbor.