Hi guys, sorry for not being able to post yesterday. Had to attend a family function, so I'll try to make it up this week by doing an extra bonus chapter. This will start as the first regular chapter of the new week.
By the way, as Prince was editing this chapter, we came across in an interesting dilemma when it came to coming up with a term for the Sea of Grief. So, we decided that we would be giving the readers more interactivity by allowing you guys to decide on what to call certain things when the differences are not so clear cut, through Strawpoll! I will include a transcript of our discussion about the term, so for those of you who'd like to be more involved in the translation process, please read through it and vote for your term of choice in the strawpoll link below!
Link to discussion transcript.
Link to the Strawpoll.
The number of ships the group encountered grew as they got closer to Hidegold Bay.
"Milord, we should arrive at Hidegold Bay in three days. We'll have to keep our guard up for the rest of the journey," Captain Wilson said.
"What's wrong?" Lorist asked.
"Milord, this part of the sea is called the Sea of Grief. It is well known as one of the areas where pirates are most active. It is better, even for fishing vessels, not to approach it. This part of the sea is not within the patrol area of the Forde Trade Union's Invincible Fleet; so acts of slaughter and robbery are as common as the clouds. It could take mere moments for someone that had just asked for help to turn into the coldest and most savage pirate that could kill without batting an eye. There have even been some captains and crews that would sink to carrying out robberies here to make up for fruitless ventures elsewhere.
"When I used to work as a captain for a transport vessel, it was here where I suffered a huge loss. I remember that I had once seen a half-sunken transport vessel with several women on board shouting for help. I didn't suspect for even a moment that they might actually be pirates. I thought I could profit some from salvaging the cargo, and headed over. It wasn't until I had brought the ship in close that I saw up to a hundred pirates waiting to ambush me. Thankfully, I didn't resist. I surrendered quickly, and was spared by the pirates," Wilson described in detail.
"Sea of Grief? Does that grief refer to the merchants' grief?" Lorist asked.
"Precisely so. This sea can be considered to be one of the three main forks. To the west, this leads out to the Hanayabarta Kingdom and Shyarsia Kingdom. Those two kingdoms are both island-based. The Shyarsia Kingdom is the top producer of spices, and the Hanayabarta Kingdom thrives off the slave trade. Port Nupite has one of the largest slave markets in the world. To the south of this area is Hidegold Bay. And to the east is Armatrin Harbor of the Lormo Duchy, which used to be where people smuggled goods into the Krissen Empire. Currently, the Sea of Grief also connects to our family's sea route further north," Captain Wilson said after he had scoured his memory about the area.
"If this area is such a crucial location, why didn't the Forde Trade Union's Invincible Fleet place it under their jurisdiction?" Lorist asked.
"Milord, the Invincible Fleet isn't too suited to venturing too far. Given the poor wind-resisting capabilities of their ships, they will easily flip over and sink given the wind speeds over here. Actually, the Invincible Fleet's main objective is the protection of Hidegold Bay from the pirates as well as the Golden Trade Route that leads to the Golden Coast of the Romon Empire. The winds there aren'st as strong as they are here, so they allow the Invincible Fleet to operate to their full potential," Captain Wilson said.
"Then, are there any strong or influential pirate bands over here?" Lorist asked again.
"No, Milord. This is the truly laughable part of the Sea of Grief," Captain Wilson said as he chuckled, "Whilst the Sunny Seas has nearly a thousand variably sized islands, the Sea of Grief has no such places for pirates to make their hideouts. There was once a band of pirates, known as the Seadragon Pirates, that attempted to take control of the area and divide it up into various territories. It didn't take long for them to get chased off by the Forde Trade Union, the Hanayabarta Kingdom, and the Shyarsia Kingdom's fleets. They would definitely not allow anyone to establish dominion over the waters here.
"That's why they ignore the smaller-scale activities of the pirates here. The ones sustaining losses are those smaller merchant guilds or owners of smuggling ships. The moment the large merchant guilds' convoys' safety is threatened, the authorities will intervene and wipe out the pirates.
"As for the captains that venture into the Sea of Grief, apart from being wary of pirates, there are some that would take up piracy themselves when they see a fitting target. The Sea of Grief is a place where countless crimes and sinful deeds can be committed, with the evidence of such deeds easily buried within the depths of the ocean..."
After listening to Captain Wilson's description, Dulles gasped, before letting out a long sigh.
"Wilson, you're not joking with me, right? The seas here look really calm. Look at those ships over there that are traveling without causing any trouble. It's completely different from the chaotic mess you described earlier. Aren't they doing perfectly fine over there?"
"Hehe," Old Jack, the quartermaster, laughed, "Sir Dulles, it's precisely because they are traveling in a large group that they aren't praying on, or being preyed on by, others. If they were any fewer, they would've launched their attacks long ago. The captain of that fleet over there is no idiot. He's worried that if he attacks other people's ships, his fleet would sustain casualties and fall prey to others. That's why, the more ships you have traveling together, the safer it will be. You may not know it, but quite a number of ships had been on our tail just now. We've managed to shake them all off, however."
"There were people eyeing us?!" Lorist exclaimed, "Why didn't I realize it at all?"
"Milord, look at the cargo vessel roughly 100 meters to our left. There's no doubt that the crew there has malicious intentions. If we were traveling in a straight line, you'd notice that the vessel is constantly turning on an intercept course. If we were on a similar cargo vessel we would have to slow down if they were in front of us or turn away. They would easily board and rob us otherwise. However, this baby of ours won't be so easily dealt with..."
After Old Jack rotated the ship's wheel, the Flying Fish of Dawn swiftly traveled in a semi-circular arc, easily circling past the cargo vessel that attempted to cross their path and leaving them far behind not long after.
Cries and curse rang out from the cargo vessel behind them.
Old Jack laughed and said, "Milord, this ship that you designed is magnificent. It's able to travel so fast despite its size, giving it a speed easily double that of any normal cargo vessel. Others can only dream of catching us."
The moment Old Jack finished, Els patted on the mast harshly and said, "Old Jack, you shouldn't have avoided them like that. If they plan to rob us, let them come and see who's the one who gets robbed instead!"
Josk nodded in agreement.
Lorist laughed and said, "It's not a matter of who raids who, Els. Even if we managed to take control of their ship, we don't have anyone we can assign to control that vessel. If anything, it would do nothing but delay our journey. Forget it, we'll let them off this time. We'll teach them a lesson if we have a chance in the future."
On the 16th day of the 11th month the skies were cloudy with the winds blowing strong.
Thanks to the fins that stretched three meters deep into the sea at the bottom of the ship, the Flying Fish of Dawn didn't sway about in the waves like the other cargo vessels. Her sharp bow easily cut through one wave after another. She swam through the water like an agile fish. Given her fully extended sails, she truly seemed like a swift arrow traveling across the surface of the ocean.
The winds of the 11th month were incredibly chilling. One would feel as if blades were cutting across one's face when exposed to the winds without any covering. Lorist had Howard stay within the cabin while he stood at the helm and learned how to steer from Old Jack.
A cry from the lookout at the top of one of the masts could be heard as noon approached.
"A fleet has appeared 600 meters ahead!"
It was at moments like this that Lorist regretted not bringing spyglasses. It was an indispensable tool to sailors. It helped one detect enemies far earlier, and in doing so allowed one to react much faster to sudden developments. Instead, a lookout could only spot things happening 1 kilometer away at most. It was already quite formidable of the lookout to have been able to see the fleet 600 meters away given the cloudy weather.
After a few moments, the lookout shouted again, "400 meters away, a large merchant fleet with 18 large transport vessels and 20 middle-sized transport vessels are heading south at half-sail."
Captain Wilson breathed a sigh of relief and said, "It's nothing serious. Normally, merchant fleets of that size belong to one of the seven great merchant guilds of the trade union. Given that they're traveling south, they should have the same destination as us -- Hidegold Bay. However, it's hard to identify what flag they're flying given the weather now. It'll take us another 30 minutes to approach them close enough to find out which merchant guild it is."
"200 meters ahead, a large merchant vessel flying a flag with a sword-impaled wine barrel, encased in a circular frame," the lookout reported after a while.
"The Chikdor Merchant Guild?" exclaimed Captain Wilson, "Old Jack, change course and overtake them by circling around them. Don't pass between their ships."
"What's wrong? Why do we have to take a large detour like that?" Els asked, displeased.
Captain Wilson laughed bitterly and said, "Milord, you should know about the Chikdor Merchant Guild, right?"
Lorist patted on Els's shoulder and said, "I know they are one of the seven largest merchant guilds of the Forde Trade Union. Initially, they were known as the Sword and Barrel. Their name only changed after Chairman Chikdor took control of the guild because he felt that it didn't sound too good. They are rather low-profile within Morante City, and not many would know that they are one of the seven largest merchant guilds."
"Milord, you are right. The Chikdor Merchant Guild is one of the hegemons on the ocean, having up to 100 large merchant vessels and countless middle-class cargo vessels as well as seven or eight shipyards. They have huge influence over the Invincible Fleet. They also engage mostly in purchasing loads of goods and dumping them in other lands. They mostly deal in wholesale distribution, so not many are aware of them.
"At sea, they control the routes that head to the Shyarsia Kingdom and Hanayabarta Kingdom. The Chikdor Merchant Guild purchases most of the spice produced by the Shyarsia Kingdom annually. The Hanayabarta Kingdom, on the other hand, use their immense profits from the slave trade to purchase luxury goods and daily necessities from the guild. The guild's formed four large merchant fleets that rotate every three months. They trade along the coast between Hidegold Bay and the Golden Coast."
Captain Wilson wet his lips with his tongue before continuing.
"Even though the Chikdor Merchant Guild doesn't grab much attention on land, they are incredibly domineering at sea. There have been instances where they caused trouble for smaller merchant guilds or individual ship owners. If it were the fleet of any other merchant guild, they might let us sail through their fleet. But this guild's fleets will only let you in to attack you once you're inside. They'll always leave the crew of the ships they attack right there, floating in the middle of the ocean."
"That's the reason why you had Old Jack sail around them?" Lorist laughed and said, "Alright, I trust in your judgment. Since our ship travels fast, we can easily lose them after circling around."
Within a lavishly-decorated cabin of the largest merchant vessel in the fleet, Chikdor Moribak sat down in troubled thought. The fleet had encountered a stroke of misfortune just before they could arrive at their home; they had gotten caught in a storm. While he wasn't worried that any accidents would happen, he was incredibly annoyed that the storm had delayed his return.
As the third-in-line for the position of the successor of the Chikdor Merchant Guild, he frequently found himself pondering on ways he could undermine his two brothers and gain his father's favor. For that, he even laboriously brought the fleet to the Shyarsia Kingdom to purchase spice. The old king had passed away in the first half of the year, and his successor wasn't too keen to let the guild continue holding a monopoly on the spice trade. The guild had no choice but to send someone with plenipotentiary powers to settle the matter.
Chikdor Moribak easily solved that problem. The newly ascended king suddenly fell sick and died, leaving his little eight-year-old brother to take the throne. The uncle of the king, who had profitable ties with the guild, was made regent, and the spice trade continued as usual.
Moribak believed that he had done pretty well and would definitely be praised by his father when he returned. However, he didn't expect that the days spent at sea would be so unbearable. The trip took three whole months. Each day at sea felt like a year to him. He couldn't eat or sleep well for a single day. Had it not been for the four trained slave girls he purchased at the Hanayabarta Kingdom, Moribak really wouldn't know what to do with all the time he had on board.
As if the delay caused by the storm wasn't bad enough, the fleet's ships were far shakier than ever. Just when Moribak wanted to relieve himself with the slave girls he purchased, he found that all four of them had become seasick and puked to no end. Moribak could do nothing but curse at the slave trader for lying to him.
Even though he claimed that they were trained, they still got seasick?! Ridiculous!
"Young Master, please be patient. We will arrive at Hidegold Bay tomorrow night. Just wait for one more day," the old servant advised.
All of a sudden, a commotion could be heard outside the cabin.
"What the hell is wrong with these noisy bastards?! Are they hungry for my whip?!" Moribak cursed before he exited the cabin.
"Young Master... Look! That ship is incredibly weird... It's traveling so quickly!" exclaimed one of the sailors as he pointed to the distance with a look of awe.
Moribak turned to look and was flabbergasted. All he could see was a weird-looking ship that swerved past them at a distance of roughly 60 meters. It quickly overtook the various ships in the fleet and approached the frontmost one.
"Young Master, that ship is traveling faster than 40 knots. This is the fastest ship I've ever seen," the merchant vessel's captain said. He had already served as a captain for the guild for more than 20 years.
"No way..." mused Moribak with shock, "Is it really that fast?"
"It is, Young Master. Please trust my observation. They are even able to travel at full-sail with the wind blowing so strong. That ship must have great wind-resistance capabilities as well as an incredibly sturdy build. Even though the ship's size is rather narrow, it can cruise incredibly stably, unlike our ships which will sway with the waves. The designer of that ship must be nothing short of genius. He has designed a magnificent horse that can race about at sea," said the captain.
Moribak didn't have a single doubt for the words of the captain. He trusted that the captain was a loyal man. Since that was the case, he felt that he should definitely obtain the ship for his personal use. As long as he could get his hands on that ship, he could bring it to the shipyards of his family. He could then determine what made it so fast, and use it to improve his family's ships. If he managed to accomplish that, his father would definitely be impressed.
At that moment, Moribak felt a burst of excitement build up in his heart, before he instructed his men to blow the horn and use flag signals to express his wishes to see the owner of that ship and ask the ship to approach his fleet.
However, after long moments of trying, the weird-looking ship didn't respond to their signals and went its own way. In a few moments, it shrinked into a small, blurry, dot before disappearing from sight altogether.
Moribak felt as if he had been smacked squarely in the face. He was incredibly furious. Never had he felt such humiliation before. There was actually someone who dared to refuse his well-intentioned invitation.
Very well, it seems that the ship is also heading for Hidegold Bay, Moribak thought, When I arrive, I will definitely seek you out and show you the 'warm hospitality' of the Chikdor Merchant Guild!
 Editor's note: This is an interesting error for an author to make. Barring special climatic circumstances like fog, choppy water, or a dark night, you should be able to see far further than normal. At the standard height of a crow's nest (around 30 metres for a ship of that size, perhaps a little more), you should be able to see about 20 kilometres out to the horizon. It should be easy to spot a ship of similar size (much less an entire fleet of them) at 12-15 kilometres. Even if we take into account the increased motion of the crow's nest (due to it's distance from the ship's centre of mass), it should still be easy to spot a ship at 5-8 kilometres, not the 600 metres the author suggests.
TL;DR, the author made a, rather interesting, mistake. You should be able to spot a ship (much less a fleet) at a far greater distance than 600 metres.