Whiptail came awake as he hit the water. He sensed immediately great danger was near. Suddenly he felt something slam against his back. He whirled around and sunk his claws into a monstrous pike, who retaliated by raking Whiptail from face to haunches.
Whiptail kept one claw sunk into the great fish, while using the other to slash at the pike’s unprotected underside and biting at its dorsal fin.
The pike leaped up into the air, attempting to rid itself of the rat. When this failed, it slammed itself into the river bank, pounding Whiptail on hard mud and rock.
Whiptail swam to shore frantically when he saw a thick rose bush. Dragging the monstrous weight of the pike with him to land, he jumped onto its back and rid it headlong into the mass of thorns, over and over. It died slow and painfully, sliding back in the water with an exhausted Whiptail with it, the River of Lost Souls taking them seaward.
Water being thrown on his face again brought him back to reality. Whiptail was on some sort of ship. A heavily tattooed stoat with a blue jerkin stood over him with with a dripping bucket. Corsairs.
To his surprise, Whiptail had not been bound with rope. He was in some sort of brig. He felt a nagging sting in his left eye.
As he attempted to rise, Whiptail fell down on all fours. The stoat picked him up by the shoulders and se t him on a cot.
“Easy messmate, ye took a great ol’ wound there. Me name’s Simu Cooper. Wot’s yore’s?
Whiptail sensed no immediate danger from the stoat, so he answered.
“That’s a good un’. But whatcha doin’ all the way stranded at sea, clingin’ to a slain pike?”
Whiptail found no reason to explain his past, or anything at all, for that matter. Simu brought his face an inch away from Whiptail’s. “Lissen matey, the Cap’n’s gonna wanta word witcha when he finds out yer awake. So if youse wants me help, ye better start talking.’”
“Hmph. I don’t need your help.”
Well maybe ye do and mebbe ye don’t. But ye better make a good impression on the Cap’n, if’n ye want his help against Zorkaan.”
Whiptail seized the stoat by his scruff. “How do you know of such things? Tell me!”
Simu growled at Whiptail, “That boar tosses all ‘is enemies in that River. Yer far from the first. Now, d’ye want me help or not?”
“Why should I trust you?”
“Simple-ye got no weapons, no way to git back to land, and ye don’t got a choice. Now, wot d’ye say?”
“But why me?”
“’Elpin strangers may have unseen rewards’, that’s what me ould mudder used t’say.”
“Your mother sounds like an old mousewife.”
“Well, that’s the thing about the Cooper Brood. We’ve always been good ol’ gennelbeasts. Not ol’ Simu, though. Sittin’ at ‘ome, ‘elpin’ with vittles, that ain’t the life fer me. But enough o’ that. Do ye want me ‘elp or not?!”
Rat stared at stoat, tension high. Finally, just when Simu was about to run him through, Whiptail slowly nodded.
Alrighty then. Cummon, Whiptail, I’ll introduce you to Cap’n Lesko.”