Keeping the Lamp Lit - Part XIV

He was sleeping moderately well between the beams when he heard the tromping about in the Captain's quarters. Matthias struggled to wakefulness as he poked his head up beneath the bookcase to peer about the room. The colossal figure of the ships commander in full diplomatic dress stood in the center of the room looking about nervously. It was clear that he was quite worked up about something.

It only took a few moments for the rancid stench of trash and rotting fish to reach his sensitive nose. Matthias recoiled from it, swiping at his muzzle with his paws as if that would keep the hideous scent at bay. They were near the docks of Arabarb; nothing else would smell quite the same.

Ptomamus confirmed his geographical notions a few moments later when he saw the rat poking it's head out from beneath the bookcase. "Ah, Matthias. Good. We are just outside Arabarb. They haven't allowed us to dock yet, but I will see what I can do to get us ashore. If things go sour, be ready to jump overboard. The only reason they haven't sunk us yet is because of the white flag and the flag of Whales. I will wait for your signal before leaving port. Good luck to you."

Ptomamus turned about then, and purposefully strode out the chamber doors. Matthias ducked back into the darkness, wishing the captain good luck as well. Charles quickly found the small package and slipped it inside his mouth. The sharp metallic taste was cold to his tongue, and made his whole body tingle in just the slightest bit. It was an altogether electrifying experience.

The sound of men's voices could be heard above, most clearly that of the Captain as he barked out orders to his men. He couldn't quite make out what the man was saying, but he could tell that he certainly sounded better than at any point during the rest of their journey. The ship's mage must have done something to hide his congestion for he'd been utterly unable to cure it.

After a few moments of scurrying about in the darkness and climbing up along well kept wood, Charles managed to peer out into the dim daylight of a late Spring afternoon. Near the poopdeck, he hid among crates and ropes, watching and listening. The northern shore was rather steep, and alongside top of the rise stood Lutin warriors, bows in hand, arrows nocked and aimed. A human in a dirty smock of a uniform seemed to be overseeing them with a rueful glint in his eyes. Along the southern shore was the decadent and decaying city of Arabarb, once a shining light of the north, now a place of filth and putrescence. Standing at the farthest edge of the docks was another band of Lutin warriors along with what appeared to be the captain of their guard, as he was shouting orders to them.

Charles looked up to see if Ptomamus was anywhere on deck, but he must have been near the wheel. However, his voice was plain and clear. "This is the 'Arrow' and we request a place to dock."

The man on the docks called back in a grisly antagonistic tone, "What is your business?"

"I am here on behalf of the government of Whales to discuss trade negotiations. If you would let us dock, I will supply the papers to show that I have been given full diplomatic authority in these matters."

"Why would we want to trade with you?"

It was clearly obvious that Ptomamus was losing his patience with this unruly individual. His voice became quite sarcastic as he went on. "Just who am I speaking to?"

"Sargent Cajudy of the Army of Nasoj."

"Do you actually expect me to believe that you are the duly appointed representative of Nasoj for this area? Who is really in charge here?"

The man seemed unsure of himself. "Baron Calephas." Matthias knew that the name was familiar, but could not imagine where he had heard it from.

"Well, Sargent Cajudy, Nasoj stands a great deal to gain from reestablishing trade with the southern lands, not to mention your Baron. Do you think that either would be pleased that you took it upon yourself to make that decision for them? Do you really believe that they will be merciful to you if your actions here today spark renewed conflicts with Whales?"

Cajudy began to look distinctly uncomfortable. Charles watched the man fidget for a moment before he finally regained his composure enough to respond to Ptomamus's stinging words. Charles could almost see the man's earnest desire to have his men fire upon the ship.

"I will send for the Baron at once." the Sargent snapped his fingers, and runners began heading back along the docks towards the central fortress of the city.

"Good. Now if you would, please lower your weapons. We are not here to make war."

"We are always at war. Why should you be any different?" Cajudy shot back, angered att he Captain's demands. "Besides, that would be a decision for the Baron to make. For all we know, you all could be spies."

Ptomamus became quite indignant, though Charles could tell that it was an act only to gain further ground. "Watch your tongue, Sargent. We have run up the white flag and have come for diplomatic reasons. Do you wish to start a war by yourself? Any hostile act taken against me, my crew, or this ship will be considered an act of war."

"Are you threatening us?" the Sargent seemed quite aghast that any would dare challenge him here in the Giantdowns so.

"Why not? You're threatening us." Ptomamus's voice was confidant and clear. Matthias really hoped that he knew what he was doing. Swimming all the way to shore was not the most attractive prospect for the rat.

"Do not push your luck, oh men of Whales. The Baron Calephas will be here in a moment. He is the only one who will be making any demands or orders around here." Cajudy then turned his back on Ptomamus and the rest of the crew, and walked back from the end of the dock. The Lutins parted to let him past, but they quickly returned their gazes upon the 'Arrow' weapons aimed and ready.

It was a tense few moments. The men on deck eyed the Lutins lining the northern shore and the docks to the south with trepidation. The overcast sky seemed to brood, the fickle light already waning as evening approached. The groaning of the spars and the creaking of the oars as the ship rocked back and forth, bobbing up and down in the water, were the only sounds to echo forth in those few minutes. Matthias licked the bauble inside his mouth, his tongue pouring over the intricate grooves, tasting the metallic sheen. He could smell the sweat and the grime of the ship, as well as the offal of Arabarb. How he wished that this would be over and that these moments would pass, but they seemed to trickle on indeterminately. The thought of swimming in these dirtied and littered waters did not appeal to him.

It also seemed that each of the sailors realized the grave peril they were in all too well. They sat at the oars or stood on the decks, each watching, none of them whispering even a word. Not a one of them had weapon in hand, though no sailor worth their salt would not have something to fight with close by. The mage of course would have remained below decks, but with some mechanism to keep a watch on the outside world in case a fight broke out. Still, if the Lutins decided to attack, it was quite evident that the crew of the 'Arrow' would be slaughtered. It all depended on how reasonable this Baron Calephas was.

Several horseman came riding out of the city, four of them flanking a central figure in ceremonial plate armor. Upon their trumpets the first two horsemen announced the dignitary's presence with a rather dignified tune. There could be no doubt, it was the Baron finally arrived. The tension certainly seemed to relax as the Lutins on the docks jumped into the water to avoid the horses and their riders which very nearly ran them down - even Cajudy nearly fell into the water, he clutched a post at the last second before tumbling overboard. The central figure, bright feathery plumes arching up from the top of his helmet, raised his visor to peer out at the ship before him. Charles could see something akin to annoyance in those babyish blue eyes. The honor guard all brought up crossbows, with the quivers and bolts ready on their hips. Matthias could not tell, but he guessed that they were all aimed at Ptomamus.

"Who has requested the honor of addressing me?" Calephas called out in a surprisingly contralto voice.

There were a couple of sneers form some of the crew and Matthias thought he heard somebody mutter, "Molest any boys recently, Father Calephas?" It was then that Matthias recognized then name and the man. Calephas had been the son of a Baron in the Midlands, and had been a rather quiet fellow, his high pitched voice making him awkward in social situations. His moral failures and vices were quite numerous, but the worst of them had been his pedastry. When it was finally discovered, much to even his own father's surprise, that he had corrupted hundreds of young boys, murdering dozens in the process, he was stripped of his title and exiled to the Giantdowns. Somebody of his moral depravity and familiarity with power was ripe pickings for Nasoj's plans.

Ptomamus's voice by contrast sounded authoritative. "I, Captain Ptomamus of Whales, am here in the hope that we can discuss the possibility of renewed trade between our peoples."

Calephas seemed quite skeptical. "Why would we want to trade with Whales?"

"As I'm sure you are aware, Whales's naval superiority is unchallenged by any other kingdom. We have access to many remote parts of the world, and thus have trade with them. Trade with us means that you can procure goods at reasonable rates from any part of the world you wish."

"We already can have anything we wish," the Baron droned on.

All threats of retaliation and hostility were gone from the Captain's voice. It was a voice more often heard from the mouths of horse traders or merchants than from sea Captains. "Banditry and mercenaries cost much, my lord. They are also notoriously unreliable. If you formulate trade with Whales, then you have the mightiest arm on the sea to trade with. We have no need of excessive prices, and you will be assured that what you are getting is the highest quality."

Ptomamus then seemed to add almost as an aside, "Besides, as the overseer of these lands, it would be your duty to ensure that the money was collected. For that, you would deserve a commission, I think."

Calephas appeared thoughtful as he sat atop his horse. After a few moments though he regained his arrogant swagger. "Why should Whales want to trade with us? What do you want from us?"

"Ah, there are many things that can be found in the Giantdowns that are unavailable elsewhere. Arabarb use to be the largest producer of furs if you recall. Besides, think of what we can offer you, my lord. Surely a sophisticated man such as yourself must have refined tastes. Surely there are things that you enjoy that you cannot get up here. When was the last time you had a grape or an orange? Or would you like to have a hand woven rug from the Pyridian Kingdoms? Or gold decorations from Quaroom? What do you want, Baron Calephas? That is the important question."

The armored man sat quietly for a moment, the clopping of hooves on his restless horse giving him an air of impatience. The arrows and crossbows were all still pointed at the ship and her crew, a fact which made Charles nervous. Looking about, he ducked back into his hole a bit, not far, but enough to calm his anxieties.

Calephas sighed, as if he were taking a great risk, but unafraid of the consequences. "You may dock at the farthest end of the pier. Only you and your personal guards may come aboard, no one else. Is that clear?"

"I would request one concession," Ptomamus called out.

"Name it."

"Though this is standard in most parts of the world, many reservations about Nasoj's government remain with some people back in Whales. So I find that it is necessary to ensure that I have your word on this. None of your men may board this ship. The 'Arrow' will remain Whales territory. Anybody illegally stepping aboard will be subject to our laws."

Calephas thought for a moment and then nodded. "Granted. As a gesture of my goodwill, I will grant that request. All men, stand down and let the men from Whales dock." The Lutins all lowered their weapons, though there was quite a bit of grumbling as they did so. The entire ship seemed to exhale in relief at once. Matthias felt like the oppressive weather had lifted despite the cloudy sky. Calephas and his guards backed their horses along the docks, and the other Lutins scuttled away.

Ptomamus began barking out orders to his men, and the ship was brought flush with the dock. Cajudy and others tied the mooring lines securely to the posts, and then stood back as the gangplank was lowered. Ptomamus left the first mate in charge, and then descended to the dock flanked by four others, one of which Charles noted was the mage dressed in a sailor's usual assembly of smocks and dirtied cloths. Charles watched as the sailors pulled in the oars and secured the riggings, setting themselves to their tasks with great relief.

Charles waited. He would not move till nightfall when it would be nearly impossible to notice him. As it was, it was nearly dusk. Perhaps only another hour. After waiting on board this ship for two weeks, another hour seemed an eternity. Ptomamus and Calephas left with their guards, Ptomamus riding another horse, the guards all walking. Charles watched them until they disappeared behind the fortress walls of Arabarb. He then scurried back into the darkness, trying not to think about what was happening outside.

One thing that he could see from his hole inside the wall was the northern slope. As the ship gently coasted to wards the docks, the northern slopes came clearly into view. No longer did the large central mast block his sight of that small cliff. The Lutins standing atop it with their human commander were watching them. Their weapons were not at the ready, but the evil glint in their eyes was clear. They were simply waiting for an excuse, any excuse, to set upon the sailors and slaughter them all.

Charles watched them as the darkness began to descend. A few grew bored of simple vigilance, and began to play rough games, some that involved tossing their fellows off the cliff and into the water. It was a grisly site when one Lutin who was dressed in too much armor, knocked far off the cliff and into the deeper waters. He gave vent to inhuman shrieks and wails as he struggled to remain on the surface. Yet the other Lutins pointed at him and laughed monstrously. When he didn't come back up to the surface, they found his mate, and raped her in front of the eyes of all the sailors. Truly, there was no honor among these beasts.

Once he saw the torchbearer going about the ship and lighting the lanterns along each sides, Charles realized that it was time for him to do what he came for. This was the moment that Phil had prepared him for. Now he would put the craftsmanship of the Keep's mages to the test. Tonight he would validate the hope that Phil and Duke Thomas had placed in him. With this act of subterfuge, he would establish himself fully as the instrument of prophecy, the 'Rat of Might'.

Scurrying out from his hole, he slinked along the darkened edges of the deck towards the mooring lines. The package still firmly in his mouth pouch, he grabbed the rope with his claws, and began to scale down towards the docks below. It was quite easy for a rat of his size and strength. Dropping down onto the deck, he began the long walk towards the city of Arabarb in the distance. The terrain was mostly barren, charred remnants of trees were the only sign that this place was once a thriving and lovely forest. The towering fortress walls, blackened from ashes in the siege that had laid the defenders waste, seemed the mask of death. Bright torchlights flickered in windows appeared to be watcher's eyes. He shivered from their rueful gaze - for it was one of undiluted evil. These were lights he would be more than happy to snuff out.

It took the better part of an hour to make his way to the city walls proper. The ground had afforded little cover, and while on foot it normally would have been a five to ten minute walk, it was tiresomely long for a rat of his size to navigate. However, upon reaching the city walls, he encountered another problem. Even after the city had been defeated by Nasoj's army, the defenses had remained particularly strong. Thus there was no obvious opening, and he didn't particularly relish the idea of crawling in through the sewers. Lutins were bad enough in the flesh, he was not pleased at the prospect of crawling through their filth.

Instead Charles managed to locate a part of the mortar that had crumbled. It had once been a sewer access, but had long since been walled up. The accumulation of ivy and moss and the years had eroded the stone away to reveal the musty opening. Climbing inside, Matthias followed the dark tunnel along, using his nose to guide him. The rat quickly managed to reach an inner grating that peered up into the city itself. The actual stronghouse in which the amulet was stored would be in the center of town.

The bars on the grate had rusted into place, but the 'Rat of Might' had no need to worry about them. Bending two of them slightly apart, he created an opening wide enough so that he could slip though without risk. It was a darkened alley abutting the wall, and there seemed to be nobody about. All the better. He took a moment to familiarize himself with his surroundings, trying to locate himself on the map he'd studiously memorized.

Once sure of his whereabouts, Matthias began his stealthy approach. He saw few people walking about the streets. There were sentries of course, but none took notice of a Norwegian rat. Most of the inhabitants were inside disreputable buildings, cavorting and screaming and laughing evilly into the night. Never before in his life had he seen a Sodom or a Gomorrah; now he could make such a claim.

The closer he came to the heart of the city, the nicer and more hospitable it seemed. Apparently Baron Calephas had no love for Lutins either, as the stronghold in the center smelled nothing of their refuse, but only of humans. Slipping into the wall next to the large central towering structure of the town was easy. There were many small holes about the base of the walls, and through them he found inner structures. Most of the work was in wood, aside from the foundation, and so there was plenty enough space between the walls for Charles to move about.

The layout that Phil had provided him before he'd left on this trip had proved to be remarkably accurate. It did not take him long to explore most of the rooms about the first and second floors. For the most part, the inner spaces between the walls were littered with dust, rusted nails, dead insects and other animals, bits of glass or cloth, and moldy scraps of food. Charles did not have much difficulty in circumnavigating the place, noting each room in its place. The foyer was certainly not a place to visit, with four guards standing at the ready in plain sight, and four more behind pillars made from what appeared to be fresh oak. There was a library, with an amazing collection of books, nowhere near the supply at Metamor Keep, but startling nonetheless. His nose warned him about the large stable, which upon inspection revealed many well-kept horses and mostly clean stalls. Most of the rooms were servants' quarters though, all human of course.

It wasn't until the next level up that he found something interesting. Both the council chambers and the treasury were on opposite ends of the third floor. Climbing up through the rafters, a trick that he had mastered over the last two weeks, he found himself looking out a small hole at a large table with maps strewn about it, and two men leaning over pointing there fingers. It was Ptomamus and Calephas. They were speaking civilly with each other, but it was also obvious that nothing was being resolved quite yet. Charles could see that each man had two guards in the room with them. One of Ptomamus's was the mage Aramaes. The rat pondered if Calephas had as much foresight to include a mage in his own retinue.

However that was not what he'd come to see. Making his way over towards the other side of the building, Charles took careful stock of all the entrances and exits. In the event of a quick evacuation, he did not really want to find himself trapped. And from the number of guards about it looked quite possible. Calephas was no fool, he kept his guards quite happy, with many luxuries not afford to many, good food, and a rather complete supply of wenches. All this and more he found on the third floor.

Yet the most important thing of all was the amulet. It was in a hexagonal room, with six guards standing with their backs to a central dias. Upon the dias was a sparkling glass case in which was placed a brooch on a slender chin necklace. It appeared to his sight to be remarkably inoffensive, yet his better judgement and magical attunement told him otherwise. There was an awful lot of magical power in this room.

The hole in the wall through which he saw everything was high up off the floor next to a set of overhanging rafters. There was really only once place that the guards were not watching, and that was the amulet itself. Of course, nobody could get into the room without their noticing, and certainly nobody could reach the artifact of Nasoj's current interest. Nobody human that is.

Charles scampered out along the rafter, the tingling glow of the bauble inside his mouth beginning to make him dizzy. Peering over the edge, he could see the amulet only a short distance beneath him. The ceiling was not particularly high, and he judged that if he hung from the rafters, he could reach the treasure with no difficulty. Growing a bit in size, he gripped the ends of the wooden rafter with his rear claws. His tail wrapped about it as well, much like a possum, but with a strength far beyond any marsupial. He continued to grow, till he was once again his normal size, and hanging down in between the six guards, and just within reach of the glass case.

The guards were all within arm's reach, but he choose not to bother with them for now. Charles reasoned that if he did this quietly enough, nobody would be the wiser and it would give Ptomamus the leeway he needed to make his discussions with Baron Calephas seem legitimate. Holding his breath, he reached out with his paws and gently lifted the glass case from the dias. It slid upwards, a bit heavy, but nothing he couldn't handle. Staring about the room, he watched the pale shadows dance along the walls from the torch light. Thankfully, there torches spaced all about the room, so all of the specters of him hanging from the ceiling were too indistinct.

Cupping the glass case in the crook of his arm, he pulled the bauble from his mouth, and pulled apart the four leaves of its surface. The shell, opened now, gave a serene green glow. It was magically designed to change colors upon contact with the amulet. As he set it down upon the jewel's surface, the green intensified to a bright yellow. Checking on all sides, he noticed that each oft he six guards were oblivious. They were good soldiers, quiet, and attentive to duty, but foolish in that they never considered a theft from above possible. There were no entrances or exits from this room aside from the one door, so their presumption was not completely without basis, but it had still been faulty.

The light would change back to green when the amulet had been completely neutralized by the spells. Charles hung perched there, the glass case in hand, and his toe claws struggling to keep him still. He flinched at a sudden groaning of the wood. Taking a quick look about, he saw that none of the guards had paid attention to it. Wood must have groaned all the time in a castle such as this.

Charles became increasingly nervous as the light persisted to stay yellow. He could not leave until the job was complete. Yet he was discovering more and more that rats were not bats. Despite his supernatural strength, his endurance was not that much better than a normal man's. Hanging upside down from the rafters was quickly growing tiresome as his brain began to feel heavy and flooded with pounding blood. The glass case in his paws felt heavy and seemed to want to slip from his grasp to crash and shatter upon the floor. He held it tighter even, not wanting to do anything that might harm any of these people. Though his vow was no more, he still wanted to avoid killing others at all cost, regardless of their own lack of morals.

Much to his horror, the bauble did not become green again, but instead became a different color altogether - red. With a sick feeling in his stomach, he knew that the package had failed to destroy the amulet's magical powers. Now his task had to be to abscond the amulet and escape back to the Keep. The ante had just increased considerably, and the chance of loss of life went up a hundred fold.

Charles with one hand closed the bauble back up, and shoved it back inside his mouth. He then carefully lifted the pendant from the dias, and draped it over his own neck, tying it as tight as he could with one paw. He could feel the creaking and the moaning of the rafters above him. His claws dug deep into the wood, and from the stress, he began to unwittingly use the Sondeck through his toe claws. Splinters began to fall from the wood as it was crushed. Matthias watched as much to his horror one of the larger chunks fell on top of a guard's head. The man quickly reached up to brush away the piece of wood, and to peer up at the ceiling. Suddenly he turned around, and his eyes went wide. A moment later, he fell backwards, the glass case shattering as it struck his head.

Charles's hands moved quickly, striking each of the other five guards in the back of the neck before they could turn about to see what had happened. All six of them were down, but they would be discovered soon enough, and then Ptomamus would be in serious danger. He quickly climbed back up to the top of the rafters, returned to rat form, tightened the chain about his neck, and then dragged the amulet back with him into the walls.

He crawled madly through the spaces back towards the room he had see the Commander in only moments before. Looking out through the hole he could see that the both of them were still perched over the table, though it appeared that they were growing tired of the parley. That was good. Matthias quickly untied the amulet from his neck and slid out of the ole into the room. The hole was low enough tot he ground that he could easily slip in and out undetected. Throwing caution to the wind, he ran over to Ptomamus's foot and gently bit him in the ankle. The Captain let out a small report, and peered down. His face was at first one of irritation, but upon seeing Matthias there staring up at him expectantly, it calmed to one of apprehension.

"What was that?" Calephas asked.

"Just a rat," Ptomamus remarked, kicking Matthias sharply with his boot. Charles was surprised by the sudden gesture, and it took him a moment to get back up and scamper back into the wall. None of the guards moved to intercept him, after all, rats were common, of no consequence. Aside from the dull throbbing in his chest, Charles felt fine, and much relieved to have delivered his message so poignantly. Ptomamus was quick to declare his intentions to turn in for the evening. Calephas, like any good host, offered him a room in the castle, but the Commander politely turned him down.

Matthias, knowing that his Captain should be safe, quickly wrapped the chain about his body again, and continued on through the walls back towards the first floor. However, once he managed to squeeze his way back out onto the street his task became more difficult. A rat was a common site, not worth taking notice of. A rat with an amulet wrapped about him was an altogether different manner. Staying to the shadows, he ducked and darted between buildings, pausing often as Lutins or humans would pass by. Many were drunk and would fall over into the street, vomiting or just passing out, or more often combinations of both. Still there were many times when a door would suddenly open, and rushing footsteps would make Charles's heart skip a beat or two.

As he continued on his way, he saw Calephas leading Ptomamus and his guard out towards the main gate. So far so good. Nobody had noticed the unconscious guards yet. That was good. The longer that remained a secret, the more time they would have to get away. Charles let the horses pass by, and then he continued on his way towards the sewer grate. As before, there were no guards standing watch in the alley, and he was able to easily slip out through the dank passage back to the outside of the fortress. They were almost to the relative safety of the ship.

Charles made his way relentlessly through the decimated tress and grounds back towards the docks. The sod thrown up by the horses was all over the road, but he avoided that and the baleful glares from the watch fires lighted all along the fortress walls. He turned his back on them and continued his scampering. He kept thinking that there would soon be a cry of alarm from the fortress walls and riders would beset them and the Lutins still lining the cliff face would launch volleys and volleys of arrows into the sailors. Yet it never happened.

Even as he set foot upon the docks he was still certain that it would happen at any moment. Calephas had long since returned back to his castle. Surely he must check upon Nasoj's artifacts at some point. Yet no alarm was raised, and he reached the ship unmolested. Climbing back up the mooring lines, Charles found himself breathing heavily, though much better than before. Crawling back through the familiar rafters of the "Arrow" he felt as if he had just come home.

Ptomamus was in his cabin pacing. He had dismissed all of his other servants, and it was obvious that he was waiting for Matthias to arrive. "Ah there you are Charles!" the Captain smiled at seeing his rodential ally. Yet at the sight of the amulet, he seemed to tense up. "What is that?"

Charles knew that there was no way about it, he was going to have to reveal himself tot he Captain now. Untangling the pendant from about his body, he quickly grew to his tallest form, much to the Commander's surprise. "I thought Phil said you couldn't do that."

"For your sake, Phil lied. He only said that because you didn't need to know, and it was better off if you didn't. But I need to tell you certain things. My mission was not a complete success, so I have had to steal this amulet. It is magical, so once they realize that it is missing, they will be able to track us by it unless Aramaes can find a way to obscure it's pattern. Also, we need to leave here now. I don't care how you do it, but get us out of here. I will keep the amulet safe, but you just need to get us back to the open seas. How long will that take you?"

Ptomamus took a deep breath, his congestion seeming to return once again. "Four days at most. We'll have the current with us this time."

"Good. Now get us out of here. They could find the guards at anytime."

"All right, Charles. You just stay hidden, I'll take it from here. If you could leave the amulet for a moment, I'll have my mage take care of it once we leave port." Ptomamus was still confused, but his natural instincts had once again took over. Certainly he was already formulating a plan of action. Charles returned to his rat shape, and scampered beneath the bookcase, leaving the amulet lying on the table for the mage.

The bauble was where he had left it, though it was utterly useless now. He figured it might be best to keep a hold of; the mages at the Keep might be able to use it to help find a way to destroy the amulet for good. He slipped back up on deck, staying in his little hole, but watching nonetheless. Ptomamus took Aramaes aside into a small alcove, and was whispering to him. Charles couldn’t hear what, but could tell that it was something very serious from the pale expression of the ships's wizard in the flickering torchlight.

Aramaes made a small gesture at the northern slopes, where the multitude of Lutins were still standing guard. Charles watched in amazement as one by one, the Lutins crumpled over onto the hillside. After a moment, an annoying gargling began to come from the monsters. With a bit of mirth, Charles realized that it was snoring. Aramaes had put them all to sleep!

Ptomamus issued his orders in a quiet voice to the rest of the crew. Sullenly the dragged their mates from the forecastle, and they each helped cast off the mooring lines, as well as douse the torches lighting their way. In practiced stealth, they moved about the ship silently as they slipped the oars into the dark waters, and pushed away from the docks. As the ship rowed away, Charles caught a glimpse of the city of Arabarb. It was still quiet, the eyes of the watch towers gazing perpetually out upon them. Somewhere in that labyrinth of decay and corruption, a lone child wailed in misery. Charles felt his fur stand on end from that sound of despair. His heart and his prayers went out to that little child who faced Calephas's abominable delights. With sick stomach, he returned below decks to catch his breath and to shut out that scream.

Slowly the ship proceeded into the abysmal night. Men would be stationed forward to watch for the turn of the river. Others would be stationed to the stern to determine if they were being pursued. Yet the groaning of the wood, and the splashing of water against the sides of the oars was all that he could hear anymore. Charles closed his eyes, and prayed for the nightmares to go away.

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