The Young Master was fast learning what a terrible disadvantage he was at. Though necessary to make the ship at all presentable before bringing any potential clients aboard, four days at anchor was long enough for word to get around about their last voyage. Long enough for the entire seaport to know what shape his poor Excelsior was in. Four days to absorb sordid stories of pirates and smugglers, of hijacking and mutiny.
And of a certain bounty hunter.
Even rumors that the ship was haunted or cursed, though he hoped that kind of talk wouldn’t fly with serious business people. Combined with his obvious youth and inexperience, it was already a hard sell. And that was without even bringing up the sad tale of how it even came into his possession in the first place, which would surely be enough to scare off anyone else.
Max tried to stay upbeat, but even his optimism was beginning to flag.
Their only remaining lead in the Docks area itself brought them to a harbor warehouse, a rather shabby-looking place that didn’t really inspire any more confidence than the other five places they’d been since lunch. Still, it was the only one that received more than one recommendation from the other places, especially the tavern, so they reminded themselves that appearances can be deceiving. If nothing else, the vibe they both got from the workers here was at least more reputable than some of the others they’d been to.
Docked outside, they glimpsed a cargo ship marked Queen of Night, but the mostly Cyexian crew on deck eyed them in a sufficiently uninviting way that they turned their attention back to the warehouse itself.
Though that was not to say that that the place was necessarily more pleasant for being less seedy; for although this crew worked diligently enough, there was also an air of frustration and dissatisfaction about them, as well.
“Excuse me,” Maximilian said to the foreman as he approached him, “my name is Maximilian Vandenberg, and I was told I could find one Captain Galford here.”
“Captain?” the foreman snorted, “Ain’t no captains around here, but if you wanna speak to Galford, he’s up in the loft.”
Pointing to some stairs leading up to an office overlooking the warehouse floor.
Not entirely sure what to make of that last, the two of them plodded up the steps, no longer having any clue what to expect. Up top, they found a makeshift office, with a broad bank of windows facing the warehouse floor, but only a couple smaller ones looking outside. Several rickety wooden chairs surrounding a large table strewn with mugs and papers and random clutter, with a small scroll desk over in the corner.
A lone man stood facing the floor below, turning to face them as they entered, whether because he saw them downstairs, or just heard them now, he gave no indication.
“And who might you be?” he asked of them.
Tall and solid, straight-backed in spite of the hint of grey creeping into his hair and neatly-trimmed beard, and one could not help picturing him cutting dashing figure in his younger days, like some living legend of seafaring. Something all the miles and all the years still couldn’t fade. Dressed in dark blue pants and a jacket with matching trim, all that seemed missing was a captain’s hat. A weathered, chiseled face that had held up well against both miles and years, with piercing, but not unfriendly, grey eyes.
Still, there was no mistaking a haggard new weight upon his shoulders, which he visibly struggled not to slump under the burden of.
“I am Maximilian Vandenberg,” the Young Master introduced himself, “and this is my associate, who’s also named Max. I represent the crew of the Excelsior, a ship that is looking to charter new crew members. And you, sir?”
“Devron Galford, at your service,” he replied. “I’ve heard tell of your ship’s plight, and it’s practically the opposite of our own.”
“Word really gets around this place…” Max mumbled, still surprised that he was at all surprised after all the similar responses they’d heard all day.
“Is that why they all referred me to you?” Maximilian asked.
“Perhaps,” Galford answered, “but before we discuss any sort of business, I would like to hear your story first-hand. As you already seem to know, there are a lot of rumors about your ship going around Anchor Point these days, so surely you can see why I would want to hear your side of the story before agreeing to anything.”
Inviting them to take a seat at the table as he seated himself.
“I hear you had quite the voyage…”
“I’m not sure you’d believe me if I told you the half of it,” Maximilian sighed.
“Try me.” Galford fished out a pipe and pouch, puffing thoughtfully as he listened to their tale.
And so Maximilian went all the way back to Alta, the dispute over the Vandenberg Trading Company, as well as its aftermath, leading to Mercer and his backstabbing bargain with Striker, Roxy’s intervention, and their desperate struggle to regain control of their ship.
Max solemnly backing him up at every turn.
“You do have a point,” Galford conceded, sitting back in his seat and mulling it over for a moment. “If I heard this story from most people, I would have figured they took me for a fool. But I’ve seen a lot of faces in my years, and your friend here is too honest and straight-forward to play along with such a farce.”
“So you believe me?” Maximilian struggled not to sound too relieved while the jury was still out on that.
“I’m inclined to,” he replied, “but would your bounty hunter friend also vouch for it?”
“Of course,” Maximilian answered. “That is, if you can find her. She doesn’t spend much time on the ship anymore, but Justin and Shades will also back us up. When they get back.”
“And what happened to them?”
“They went looking for Roxy,” Max told him, “I think they want to learn about bounty hunting.”
“Ah, I used to be an adventurer like you,” Galford remarked, “but I found steadier work on the crew of a ship, the Harbinger. In time, I became captain, and we sailed all over the world… Until lately. About a month ago, we were caught in a terrible storm, out upon the Trench, suffering heavy damage out there. In a last attempt to save ourselves, we headed for Anchor Point’s beacon, a ray of hope none of us expected to find. Sadly, it was too little, too late, and our beloved Harbinger was lost. Another ship claimed by the Abyss. It was only with the help of a Port Authority rescue ship that we even made it, responding to our last distress signal, but we’ve been stranded here ever since.”
“A crew without a ship,” Max observed, looking around and seeing the warehouse workers in a new light. And couldn’t help but feel a hint of kinship with this crew, who were also bereft of a ship, struggling to find a new path.
“So now you see why everyone was pointin’ you in my direction, then,” Galford summed up. “We found work where we can, but there’s nothing here that would pay enough to buy our own ship. Even working here around the harbor barely pays enough to cover any of our personal expenses, but I fear before long, most of my companions will have to part ways, joining other crews one by one if they wish to return to the high seas…”
“I’m sure there’s room aboard the Excelsior for your whole crew,” Maximilian invited.
“Of that I’m sure,” Galford acknowledged, “but it is yet to be seen if you can also procure cargo or passengers. If nothing else, I will need to discuss this with the others, and there is also the matter of our contract here at this warehouse, but I will give you a fair chance. The day after tomorrow, I will pay your ship a visit, at sunrise. Anyone else who might be interested may also come with me to take a look. I’m not promising anything, but I will at least consider it.”
“That is all I ask,” Maximilian told him. “Thank you for meeting with us, Captain Galford.”
“Don’t go granting me titles just yet, lad,” Galford cautioned him as they shook hands. “I can see you have passion and will, but a good captain also needs a level head and experience.”
“And I’m willing to learn,” Maximilian assured him as he turned and joined Max on his way out.
Both of them certain that Galford and his erstwhile crew were the best offer they were going to get out of Anchor Point. That even if they could scare up some more leads tomorrow, there wouldn’t be anything with this kind of potential again anytime soon, certainly not in time to save the Excelsior. Maximilian, especially, convinced that he had just found himself a new mentor, as well as a captain.
Having already decided that the next day would be devoted to shoring up the ship, and seeing if he could find any leads on cargo or passengers, though how he was going to sell that pitch without a crew yet he had no idea.