The Cock kneeled down to take a small sip from the stream they were following and promptly spit it out in disgust. With only several days of fresh water and drinkable liquids left, they would need to find Jard and Edith soon. While he did not know for sure that the bitter tasting water was poisonous or foul, he did not want to take any chances. Indeed, taking chances was a concept that The Cock absolutely abhorred. He liked to be in control of his own destiny, and always went to great lengths during operations to ensure that almost all variables were eliminated. Many men would call this paranoia, but The Cock preferred to think of it as wisdom or precision. More than once, these seemingly unnecessary measures had saved his life, and he prided himself in the few failures and casualties sustained by his little band of criminals thus far.
One of these safety measures was always leaving behind a rear guard. Even in this barren wasteland called the Desert of Dreams, with few, if any, human beings for miles in any direction save in front of him, he had made it a point to maintain at least one rear scout. This precaution paid off today, as a deep, rough, voice shouted behind him. "Ze Cock, Ze Cock! Ver is Ze Cock? I must speak vis him!" The Cock turned to see the owner of the voice; it was his rear scout, Enzo. At first glance, Enzo was an odd choice for a scout. He was a big man, standing nearly six and a half feet tall with arms almost as large around as Maximiliano's legs. A shaggy mop of black hair topped his head, and several days' growth of facial hair had begun to obscure most of his face. Despite his imposing stature and heavyset appearance, though, Enzo had some of the softest feet and fasted hands in The Cock's entire band. He could walk through miles of autumn woods without crunching a leaf, it was said, and The Cock knew firsthand that the man possessed more bo-staff skills than anyone he had ever seen. There was no question that Enzo was the best man for the position, for he would be virtually invisible to anyone attempting to trail The Cock, and he could also incapacitate any single, unwanted, tracker with several quick blows from his staff. If push came to shove, the big man could hold off pursuers longer than most, giving the rest of the men the best chance to escape.
"I'm here," The Cock called, "Vat news from ze rear, Enzo?"
"Zree men," the large man replied, "vis horses."
"Zree meen?" The Cock raised an eyebrow, either an odd coincidence, or something very strange was going on, "Take me to zem, immediately!"
"Sir Bruce, come in, I understand you have a request for me?" Gottfriend gestured affably for the knight to enter his cabin and leaned back in his chair, "What can I do for ye?"
"I need a swordfish." Bruce said, "have one fetched for me as soon as possible."
"A swordfish?" Gottfried said, slightly amused, "such fish are very hard to come by. May I be so bold as to ask why you need such a creature."
"It is not the creature itself I seek, but the nose bone. I am going to make a flute with which to trick the ."
The captain raised an eyebrow and leaned forward, "A flute, eh? Where did you hear this tale of flute charming?"
Bruce told Gottfried of the mysterious volume he had found below deck. "Much of it I couldn't read, but the part with Sir Chint. The knight had a brilliant and foolproof plan that I intend to use myself."
"Brilliant? Foulproof?" Gottfriend chuckled, "I hardly think so. The man was lucky to survive. Closer to a lunatic than a brave knight I'd say. However," Gottfried's eyes narrowed, "I'm inclined to believe the tale. Now let me tell you a story, Bruce. This ancient book you speak of, I found it, several years ago, washed ashore many leagues north of Fissabent. It was shortly after my frightening encounter with the sea spirits," he raised a hand to stop Bruce from saying something, "Believe what you like, knight, just hear me out. Anyways, we headed for the cost to take on fresh water. When we got there, I found it. Wedged between two rocks and covered with seaweed and sand. It was soaked through completely, and I feared ruined, but when this book dried out, it was in great shape. The pages were smooth, the ink not smudged, the binding worn but intact. I could barely believe me eyes. Now I'm not great when it comes to reading, but I devoured every page in there, save for those with strange markings and symbols. When I returned to Fissabent I found no one who could read it, and was laughed off and called crazy, but I'm telling you mate, there's something special about that book."
"Special indeed," Bruce replied, "It is a grand book! Priceless beyond gold or jewels, the last great volume of the old kings, the key to the future, the chronicles of another age. A masterpiece I say!"
"Easy now," Gottfried smiled, "important or not, it won't be killing the Leviathan for us. As for Chint's story, it is not my intention to needlessly risk the lives of my sailors, even a brave knight one who would jump into the sea after the most powerful creature in the seas. I may just be a ship's captain, but I am no fool. There is more than one way to kill a sea serpent."
"What do you mean?" Bruce asked, "I assure you, sir, my broadsword has struck down many a foe, and will be more than enough to destroy the beast."
"Enough or not, I believe these is a better way. If you recall, Bruce, our voyage was delayed back in Fissabent and cost a few extra crowns. That's because I had a special project for the local blacksmith. Do you wish to see it?"
"I not only wish it, but it is my right to see the weapon with which I shall kill this foe. Bring it forward!"
Gottfried stood up and walked over to the side wall of his cabin, he put his finger in knot of one of the wooden planks. Without warning, several planks in the floor opened to reveal a secret compartment. Bruce looked at its contents.
Peter was just about to take a well-earned drink from the river when, without warning, an arrow splashed into the shallows several feet away. "Aaaagh, what was that?" he saw the fletching protruding from the river and gasped, "attack! Jard, James, attack, they're shooting at us, we're all gonna die!" Instantly Jard grabbed his battle axe. He was about to say something when a voice cut him off.
"Drop your veapons, you are surrounded."
Peter whispered to Jard, "I think we should do what he says,"
"Agreed," Jard whispered back, he set his ax down carefully.
"Vat brings three men into ze desert of dreams? Who are you, ver do you come from, ver are you going?"
Jard would not give in to his disadvantage so easily, "I could tell you those things, and much more, but I prefer to give away my information face to face. Kill us if you dare, but it may cost you."
"Jard!" Peter clutched his arm. "What are you doing?"
"Fair enough," came the accented voice, and seconds later a thin man with groomed black hair emerged from behind a bush across the river. He was holding a bow and had an arrow nocked in place. "I like your style," the man said, "to whom do I have ze pleasure of negotiating vis?"
"Jard of Nuvanderim, squire of the blue trout. These are my companions, Peter my esquire, and new friend James."
The man paused for a moment, then put his arrow in his quiver and smiled, "Vell, Jard, perhaps zer are no negotiations after all. I have been searching for you."
Jard was confused, "For me? Are you one of Sir Edward's men?"
"Sir Edvard? No! I despise ze man!" He extended his hand to Jard, "I am Ze Cock."