A young man named Gabriel Justarm leaves his island village to seek help from the Order of Illumination: bandits were attacking and the people need help!
Buying fare on the trading ship The Heron he was soon on his way to the island of Caedwyr to try and find the Order. While on the ship he met a few of his fellow passengers: the gnome Horace Jinglebottom (who went on a mad tirade about the untrustworthiness of vegetables), the quiet catfolk Usara, and several others.
On the 4th day out to sea the Heron was attacked by a massive orcish warship covered in skeletal remains and bloody viscera. Despite the Heron’s agility and speed the orcish warship inexorably gained and those brave enough to fight gathered their courage as explosions rocked the ship and then battle was joined as orcs and hobgoblins swung from the warship to the smaller Heron.
To call it a battle is a fallacy: it was a massacre as dozens of hobgoblins and orcs overwhelmed the crew and passengers. Usara and Gabriel fought together until Usara was cut down and Gabriel was smashed across the head and faded to black.
Several days later Gabriel wakes up in the muggy atmosphere of a dark ship’s hold and he, like nearly 50 other people, hang from leather cords around his wrists as the sound of the sea and the moans and cries of the slaves wash over them.
Nearby he spots Usara, who is very badly injured with an infected wound while Gabriel’s wounds are mending nicely. The taciturn catfolk was conscious but very weak. Shortly after he woke up a robed orc comes down into the hold and begins inspecting the living cargo of the hold with spurts of sadistic glee (as evidenced as he torments Usara by pinching and prodding his infected wound).
For two days the routine was formed: At some point the robed orc would appear and inspect the prisoners and shortly after a group of orcs would come down and remove the dead from the hold and feed the rest of the prisoners a bit of disgusting gruel and a mouthful of water.
Fortunately for Gabriel, who worried for Usara’s rapidly declining health and his own continued well-being, on the second (or third, hard to say) day Horace Jinglebottom comes down into the hold and squeakily rejoices to have found them. Horace had hid in a barrel of pickles on the orc warship to avoid the battle, capture, and almost certain death. Unfortunately for Gabriel it also sounds as though a storm has hit the ship and the ship is tossing and turning in the waves.
Horace helps free Gabriel and Usara just as the robed orc comes down into the hold once more. Gabriel charges him, trying to wrestle him down and clamp his mouth shut, but the orc is just too strong for him and shrugs out of his grasp and prepares a spell just as Usara, freed by Horace as well, hurtles out of nowhere and smashes the orc to the ground and after Gabriel and Usara pin him they bind him and gag him and prepare their escape. Before they leave Usara snaps the orc’s neck with satisfaction.
To say the story from here gets better would be a lie. As they reach the top deck of the warship Gabriel loses his balance and falls overboard into the frigid sea. After almost drowning several times he manages to find a pickle barrel to hang onto as he floats in the storm-tossed sea and eventually he does manage to doze (precariously) for a few hours.
He wakes up when the sound of the sea changes into the roar of surf and he finds himself being swept towards a vast, perilous cliff-lined coast. Rocks pierce the waves and the sheer cliffs line the coast for as long as he can see but driven on pure adrenaline Gabe manages to avoid being crushed by the surf climb to a small shelf and pass out the temperature drops as night falls and he spends the night curled up in a waterlogged ball shivering and dozing.