One for sorrow, two for mirth...
“…Three for a funeral,
Four for birth
Five for heaven
Six for hell
Seven for the devil, his own self”
Ulblyn Blackbackle has the look of a well-traveled Halfling sailor, dressed for both style and function, with a pair of bright blue eyes that shine with cunning and mischief.
The wrinkles beginning to grow at his eyes and smile betray the near-middle age of the otherwise youthful vigor of Ulblyn Blackbuckle, preferring to go by “Jus’ Blackbuckle will do, thank ye.” Quick to joke, laugh, smile, and even quicker to drink, the years appear not to have worn on the soul of the Varisian-born Halfling man. An accomplished tumbler, acrobat, and occasional sneak, the years appear to have been equally kind to his body.
Salt-callused hands and bare soles alongside the fading ink of tattoos portraying sirens, torrents, and seaborne leviathans instantly mark Blackbuckle as a sailor. His carefully unkempt hair and sideburns show only the faintest hints of grey creeping up towards the midnight black of his hair, often tied back with a colorful Varisian- or Halfling-made kerchief. Scars of all variety, made from blade and hook and rope alike, adorn his hands and face, and a particularly wicked line runs across his left eye in a mark that very nearly left him wearing a patch. A long-stem pipe can sometimes be found at the corner of his mouth, as his taste for exotic tobaccos and other vices has grown with travel.
As many Halflings, Blackbuckle frequently finds little use of footwear, finding his hardened feet and nimble digits far more suited to his work than shoes or boots. Baggy trousers befitting a corsair sit at his waist, with a flashy vest often sitting over his worn leather armor. Belts riddled with pouches and dagger sheathes adorn his waist, arms, legs, and shoulders, and a dozen unseen pockets conceal anything from contraband to coin to daggers to alchemical trinkets depending on need. Well practiced in sleight-of-hand, juggling, and knife throwing, many a scoundrel has found themselves a pincushion of daggers in the blink of an eye.
His voice frequently booms with the strength of a man three times his stature, with a sweet baritone projection perfected through years of performance alongside shouting over noisy harbors and storms. Quick with a joke or a story for all who’ll listen, his eyes light with emotion when telling tales, singing ballads, or eliciting laughter from a crowd. In an instant, though, the guise of performer can disappear and the sharp, focused gaze of a fearless rogue comes to light, his voice a whisper on the wind, and his oaths of vengeance against those who would rob men and Halfling alike of their freedom lacking mercy or hesitation.
Lightning ripped through the midnight blue of the moonlit sky, and rain fell as Pandemonium on the slick deck of the Blood & Thunder. Raucous winds racked the sails emblazoned with a red bolt of lightning, the shouting of dozens of men only barely audible above the thunder and fury of the storm.
“Yep, it’s a Right Whale, and a biggun! Six degrees off the port bow! Harpoons ready boys!” The call resounded from the crow’s nest, and Ulblyn Blackbuckle tightened his grip on the rainslick, man-sized spear, its flued head carefully sharpened to a wicked point by his own hands in his time between climbing rigging.
“Remember now, first strike gets an extra half share!” The thick, green-skinned orcblooded mate bellowed over Blackbuckle’s head, squaring his peacoat-clad shoulders and turning his red gaze to the sea. Some of the other men taking their places at the railing looked uncertain about a Halfling assigned spear duty over masts or lookout, but this was not the first hunt that First Mate Krom of the Thunder and Blackbuckle had spent together. Krom stood confidently beside him, creating a contrast that might be comical if struggling to stay on foot weren’t first in every man’s mind.
The bow of the vessel lurched to meet the relentless rocking waves, moving to encircle the surfacing black mass of creature that had emerged mere seconds ago to spout, the dozen-foot column of water signing its death warrant. Blackbuckle knelt to stay in place, and the young half-elf on his right lost his footing. Blackbuckle shot an arm out, grabbing his shoulder and aiding him to his feet again as the whaleboat circled its prey. “Easy lad… been many a good man lost to sea that way.” He said with a grin, patting the back of his leg encouragingly when he saw doubt and fear creep into the boy’s eyes.
It seemed an eternity as the distance closed, but as the storm raged on, the massive black and grey shadow drifting atop the waves grew ever closer, the Thunder in position to strafe astride the great beast. Harpoons flew early, with sailors eager to earn both wealth and admiration from striking the first blow against their catch. None hit their mark. “Hold, you damned fools or I will flog the lot of you!” Krom bellowed, causing more than a couple of young men to flinch in reproach. Blackbuckle, on the other hand, bent at the knees, and grew ready to throw. With every inch of the gap that disappeared, his confidence grew. A dire, bone-shaking screech echoed in the night over the sounds of the storm, and beside him, he saw the young elfblooded man throw with a cry of effort.
The screech resonated even louder, another flash of lightning revealing a trickle of blood from the lance that pierced its side, and roars of triumph sounded across the deck. “Nice shot, kid!” Krom yelled, clapping the boy’s shoulder over Blackbuckle’s head and nearly causing the young man to collapse. “First time out too. Keep that up, you’ll do well out here.”
Blackbuckle grinned wider. While he certainly could have put that share to good use, thinking of his work back ashore, he remembered what it was like gaining his sea legs and was certain the lad had plenty of good use for it as well.
Seeing the first strike land, harpoons flew like a flock of iron cranes through the air, piercing flesh and blubber, and men fought savagely to keep their ropes tied to the ship. Blackbuckle took two loping steps before hurling his own harpoon with all of his might, watching it sail and catch against the now-thrashing broad side of the massive beast before him, and he knew that it was only a matter of time before the great thing exhausted itself. He began to run along the portside rail, securing rope as he went, when the whale gave a sharp cry, lurched, and sent the Thunder keeling off track. The thud of flesh against hardwood rang in his ears, but Blackbuckle managed to keep his footing; damned be Tallfolks’ insistence on wearing shoes, he did just fine without them. But alongside those thuds, a cry echoed out, and once again, he saw the same pointy-eared boy slide along the deck, this time sliding portside, and slipping right between the rails into open water.
“Man overboard!” The cries echoed all around him, from the crow’s nest to Krom’s unmistakable bellow. He didn’t bother crying out, however, as he was midway through shrugging off his jacket and diving into the dark water below.
Silence reigned for an impossibly long moment as he gained his bearings, his eyes adjusting to the salty sting and near-complete darkness below the water. Several meters off, the half-elf was struggling, seemingly unable to tell up from down in his panic and fighting unsuccessfully to move in any direction. Blackbuckle mustered his strength, calling on decades of time spent roaming the waters off the shores of Kintargo, swimming upstream among the Riverlands, and spearfishing and abandoning sinking or compromised ships to bring to bear now.
By the time Blackbuckle reached the young man, he’d slipped into unconsciousness, exhausting his lungs with all of his thrashing about as Blackbuckle had witnessed many fresh recruits do when hitting the water in years past. While he might not have been able to lift him above water, Blackbuckle was able to grab his collar and began his ascent, praying to any half dozen Gods he gave reverence to that a wayward harpoon or the dying beast mere meters off did not prematurely end his whaling career.
Moments later, using all of his strength, he broke the plane of the surface and began gasping for air, the rain still pouring relentlessly from above. “Grab the rope!” He heard faintly from behind him, and immediately began thrashing about with one arm to find what he hoped would pull them to safety. His hand met the hempen braid, and he gave it a firm tug, immediately causing the half dozen men aboard to begin hauling them back.
Minutes of struggle later, Blackbuckle found himself prone on the deck, struggling desperately to catch his breath as the rain hit his face, listening closely to the racket beside him as the closest thing to the ship’s healer began rapidly pressing the chest of the unnamed elven boy, attempting to purge the seawater from his lungs. Several chest-poundings and desperate pleas with Gozreh, Besmara, and one desperate one to Asmodeus later, coughing and sputtering told Blackbuckle that the lad would be alright. He breathed a sigh of relief, glad that the weight of burying a shipmate wasn’t going to interrupt the celebration of a quick catch.
The whale’s moans still filled the night air, competing with the noise above, but the Blood & Thunder was now shifting its bearing back to shore, and he knew that within hours he’d be on the open beach, flensing knife in hand, preparing a haul that would keep his pockets full for weeks to come. Krom’s stubbly green face soon appeared, blocking his view of the billowing cloth sails and the massive crimson lightning bolt fluttering overhead. “Good on ya, Blackbuckle. Not another man here would have made that dive on a good day, much less in this kind of storm. That lad owes you his life.” He’d say, offering a massive, callused hand down. Blackbuckle took it, pulled to his feet by the massive shipman, drenched from his unkempt hair down to the thick black hair of his feet.
“Eh, all in a day’s work.” He’d say with a broad smirk and a shrug, looking over to his recovering crewmate. “Never caught your name lad.” He said the the elfblooded boy, clapping his shoulder as he rose to his knees, spitting the last of the sweater from his lungs.
“It’s…. It’s Domiel. Dom. You saved my ass today, smallfriend.” He’d say, reaching out his hand. “I owe you my life.”
Blackbuckle clasped his wrist, giving it a firm shake. “You don’t owe me shit, tallfriend. Just keep your ass aboard next time.” He’d say with a chuckle. “It’s Blackbuckle, by the way Dom. And on second thought, maybe you can buy me a pint when we get ashore, and we’ll call it even.” He’d say with an even broader grin, before throwing his wet shirt off and enjoying the warm autumn breeze against his skin. Moonlight played across his vibrant purple and blue tattoos, and the pitch black raven’s head etched at his shoulder made him think fondly of home.
“Alright, you fuckin’ dogs, just because one of you falls off the damned boat doesn’t mean you get to rest! We’ve got a whale to get ashore, and I don’t want to see a damned one of you slacking, or I’ll throw you in my damned self!” Krom would call out, sending many sailors dispersing back to their posts. Blackbuckle knew well enough that the old half-orc was mostly bark, but he had a mean bite and little patience for a sloppy crew.
One final moan from the whale echoed in the night, as the storm relented briefly to a mere trickle, thunder pealing back and sounding growingly distant. Blackbuckle looked over the railing towards the dying leviathan, his smirk twisting into a genuinely apologetic smile. “Sorry, bud. Just business. Hope you understand.” He’d say, patting one of the ropes holding a harpoon into place, before climbing the rigging and adjusting the sails to get them heading back to port.