|The Ruby Coast
“Tighten them ropes on the mainsail,” barked a Captain from the deck of the Dawyn.
The ship was a buzz with activity as all great sailing vessels were when far out to sea.
The mercs of Unit XIII were making their way back to their homelands, hoping to fulfill the latest contract.
”Gods and demons I hate sea life,” choked Goon of the Mercs from the railing of the ship.
Vedin and Rhodes chuckled while reviewing some paperwork. The ship tossed and pitched with each undulation of the vast ocean waves. Goon seemed to be the only one suffering from the effects. Ketsuki stood at the bow of the ship, hand resting on his katana as he scanned the horizon.
”So you think we be clear yet sir?” asked the ships captain thru a full and scraggly beard at the pair of merc leaders.
”Hard to say Captain. Lord Istar lost a considerable sum of money. How would you feel by being showed up in front of your people, lost a small fortune, AND your best fighter presumably killed?” replied Vedin in his usual matter of fact tone.
”Good and pissed sir. I’ll see if I can squeeze a few more knots outta these dogs,” said the Captain with a single nod before turning and bellowing another sling of orders.
“You think he’ll come for us?” asked Vedin in response to the face Rhodes was making.
”If he doesn’t I’ll be highly disappointed,” grinned Rhodes as he looked over his shoulder.
”HEY, Goon! Make yourself useful and go puke over the rail on the rear of the ship. And while your there, look for any signs of pursuit,” ordered Rhodes.
Goon lifted his pale head up, wiping his mouth and staggered back towards the rear of the vessel as ordered.
”He gonna make it?” asked a passing sailor, of the hapless merc.
”He’ll be fine. Just needs to be rid that foul ale he consumed last night is all,” replied Vedin somewhat annoyed by the questioning crew.
Hours passed along with several dozen more chummings by poor Goon. Lifting his throbbing head up, spittle falling from his lower lip, he noticed a small dot in the distance. Squinting his eyes, the youngest merc realized that a ship was apparently following them. His guts tightened up in response to the fight mode instilled by years of training. Dashing in a lumbering way, the giant Goon bellowed out the warning call.
”SIR, we have a pursuer!” he yelled as he came to the inner railing looking down on the lower deck.
Rhodes and Vedin sprinted up the steps and joined their recruit by his side.
”There, just about a league and a half behind.”
Squinting, Rhodes strained his vision but could only see pitching waves. A spyglass was held out for him.
”Here ya go sir,” said the Captain with a toothed smile.
Nodding, Rhodes looked thru the hazy eyepiece.
”Well?” asked Goon and Vedin in unison.
Rhodes slowly lowered the eyepiece and held it out. Goon reached for it first, but Vedin snatched it quickly.
”Look for yourselves,” sighed Rhodes.
”Single ship, big. Prolly a gunner. Double gun ports I think.”
Rhodes turned to look at Vedin squinting into the monocular,”Keep looking,” he said.
Vedin scanned, then his expression changed, “oh dear.”
Goon and the Captain exchanged looks between all those standing.
”Well?!! Is it Istar?!” asked Goon excitedly.
”No. Worse. You know this is gonna be ugly Rhodes,” said Vedin.
”Who is it?!” asked Goon.
”Yeah, no argument there friend,” replied Rhodes.
”WHO THE BLOODY HELL IS CHASING US?!?!” screamed Goon.
”Golden John Long,” said Ketsuki who had joined them unawares.
Rhodes and Vedin turned to their dark samurai friend and stared. Goon leaped back at the shock of the man appearing beside him out of thin air. The Captain nearly fell over.
Rhodes and Vedin nodded while the Captain began to shake noticeably in his boots.
”THE John Long?” he stammered.
”Who the devil is that?” asked Goon completely in the dark and totally frustrated.
”Only the most feared pirate ever to set foot on a ship,” answered Vedin with a sigh.
“He’s known as Golden because he’s never lost a fight, he ONLY takes the gold on ship and leaves NO survivors. By far he’s the richest and deadliest pirate on the sea,” said the Captain with several swallows in between sentences.
“Oh. Is that all?” said Goon with a shrug before turning and throwing his hands up.
”No. That’s not all. Long’s also known as a merc’n pirate. He’ll take contracts out on merchant vessels undersigned by the competition. He lives to fight,” said Rhodes flatly.
”Which makes him predictable,” interjected Ketsuki as he turned to face the other men.
Vedin arched a brow and pursed his lips in thought.
”We could use that to our advantage,” he mused.
Rhodes grinned and quickly formulated a plan, “Captain, have your men load ALL the guns, cannons, whatever you have, raise the flag to indicate plague on board and lower the sails.”
The Captain was nodding up until the part about lowering the sails,”WHA? Are you mad sir !?”
“DO IT!” barked Rhodes as he dashed for the decks below to aid in the loading.
Everyone sprinted after the leaders of the merc unit. The captain gave the orders amid some protesting and quizzical stares but the orders stood and were followed.
Once everything had been done, Vedin gathered everyone on the lower deck.
”Ok. We are under the guise of plague, several of you men get up on the deck and wrap some blankets around you. Hide your flintlocks and short rifles underneath. Look SICK!. You other men, be at the ready on all the guns and cannons. We’ll hopefully be able to fool them and they’ll steer clear. However, if they pull long side, you men be ready to give them everything we have. We wont have time to reload everything for a second volley,” instructed Vedin methodically.
”Right. However, after the first volley, load the big cannons with chain shot, grape shot and anything you can find to rip their crew apart. Then get your asses on deck and ready to fight,” added Rhodes just before Goon called down.
”Their gaining ground quickly now sir!”
”Which side are they favoring?” asked the Captain.
Goon pointed to the starboard.
The Captain ordered all guns to the same side, ”If we’re lucky, we’ll cut em down before they know what hit em.”
”Yes. But pirates are always ready to fight. Once our gun doors raise, they’ll fire first,” said Ketsuki as he inspected the edge on his keen katana.
”Then we just don’t raise them,” said Rhodes.
Vedin looked shocked at the brilliant idea. The Captain just shrugged and shook his head.
As Golden Long’s vessel drew nearer, Rhodes and Vedin stayed out of sight. If anyone recognized the merc’s, they’d realize the ruse and open fire. John Long stood at the bow and looked thru an eyepiece.
”Hmm. Vessel looks to be under a plague flag,” said the pirate leader.
”Could be a ruse to ward us off sir.”
Nodding as he stroked his pointed, well kept beard, “Perhaps Mr. Smitt, perhaps. Or maybe they saw us and are opting for a bluff.”
”Mr. Tagert! What’s the wake of that vessel tell you?” asked Long.
The sailor stepped forward and eyed the ship ahead of them carefully.
”I’d say she’s running a might heavy sir. She’s not on our company list. Don’t know what she’d be hauling,” the man replied.
Still nodding, Golden John Long stood for several long minutes, eyeing the ship warily.
”What in bloody hell is taking him so long?” asked a sailor as he peeked thru the railing at the trailing pirate ship.
“In a hurry to die sailor?” asked Vedin.
“He’s deciding…calculating his odds. If we truly are infected with plague, then he’d be at risk. If we are faking, what kind of armament are we carrying, and lastly, what’s the cargo aboard? Is it worth even engaging a worthless target,” analyzed Vedin as he watched the ship himself.
“Mr. Smitt, bring us to their starboard, have the long guns ready. Mr. Tagert, prepare a boarding party. Make it respectable, no less than 50 men,” ordered Long as he turned and went into the Captains quarters.
The men followed the orders quickly and without hesitation. John Long was not known for his tolerance of people questioning his orders.
“Damn, their coming alongside. Ready yourselves men,” whispered the Captain down below.
As Goldens ship, the Golden Axe, came alongside the Dawyn, Rhodes, Vedin, Ketsuki and Goon shuffled to that side with wool blankets wrapped about them. The pirate ship overtook them quickly.
”Ahoy!” called out Mr. Tagert, “Prepare to be boarded by Golden John Long!”
Several men on the Golden Axe had boarding hooks ready to throw to pull the two ships together.
”Bad idea matey, ~cough cough~, their be death aboard here. Best to put some distance ‘tween us,” said Rhodes dramatically for effect.
”Then we’ll just hasten you on your journey swab. John Long takes no prisoners!” called out Tagert as he drew his cutlass.
Vedin waited for the proper moment when the two ship were equally aligned before stomping his heel on the deck as a signal.
”Sorry to hear that friend,” said Rhodes just before every gun and cannon below fired.
As the men on deck threw their blankets down, revealing several pistols and short rifles tied to them, the ships gun port doors were blown apart by the cannonballs from behind, sending out a shower of deadly splinters. The deafening explosion caught the pirates off guard for a few moments. Several were instantly killed in the first blast. The men on the deck of the Dawyn began to fire several volleys into the boarding party assembled on the deck of the Golden Axe. Mr. Tagert was knocked back by the concussion of a cannonball taking the railing apart just a few feet between him and Mr. Smitt. Two sailors were blasted into several parts.
John Long came bursting from his quarters, pistol and saber drawn. A look of disbelief on his face as he surmised the situation.
”Morning John!” yelled Rhodes just before taking aim with his rifle and firing at the infamous pirate.
John had only a split second to dive for cover just before Rhodes fired. The musket missed his head by a mere inch.
”Blast that bloody dog RHODES !!!” he cursed as he rolled and got to his feet.
”RETURN FIRE YOU IDIOTS!!” he screamed down below deck.
Long’s crew was trying to get the remaining cannons that were still functional into firing position. Both ships were sitting about even in the water relative to their gun ports.
”HIT THE DECK!” bellowed Ketsuki as he sensed the eminent cannon fire.
The volley from the Golden Axe was less than they received, but effective none the less. The dozen cannons belched forth fire and shot. The half that were loaded with solid ball ripped thru the side of the Dawyn and out the other side. Those on the deck lying prone, only were sprayed with some wood, while those standing were hit with the grapeshot designed to injure and kill crew. Overall the score was still advantage to the mercs vs the pirates.
”Hurry up and fire again!” yelled the Captain of the Dawyn.
The men quickly finished loading grape and chain shot and fired again. This time they could see where their barrels were aimed and adjusted accordingly. The results were more casualties aboard Long’s ship.
”Curse you motherless mercs!” yelled Long as he fired his pistol.
Rhodes grinned as he quickly reloaded his rifle,”Ya know Vedin, I think he might be a bit sore at us.”
”You don’t suppose Rhodes!” replied his friend as he popped up from his cover and fired a round at a pirate trying to get a boarding hook thrown.
”We REALLY need to take him out Rhodes. We don’t have the men to get into a hand to hand skirmish,” said Vedin in a rather dire way.
“I hear ya old friend. Just be patient. I have another lil plan in the works. Goon should have it about ready. GOON!” barked Rhodes quickly.
Goon nodded and issued a ‘load’ order to several men who had set up one of the merc company’s catapults below deck. Two powder kegs, outfitted with a fuse was placed in the siege equipment basket. Goon pulled the lever after the fuse was lit, sending the high explosive barrels soaring out the deck hatch.
”Thar she goes !” yelled Rhodes with a grin, ”let’s just hope Goon’s aim is better than his shield work.”
The men watched as the smoking payload went skyward, hit the far side of the Axe’s deck, bounced and landed in the water on the other side.
”Damn, it bounced Goon! Three less turns this time!” instructed Rhodes.
John Long looked up quickly as the barrels soared overhead and missed their intended target.
”HMPH. Never send a merc to do a pirates jo—“ scoffed John Long just before being cut off by an explosion at his back.
The barrels fuse was waterproofed, giving it the ability to explode even tho it was slightly underwater. The explosion ripped a large hole in the side of the Golden Axe, sending John Long sprawling across the deck.
Goon was already cranking down the catapult when the pirate vessel fired another cannon round. The catapult exploded into chunks of wood and debris, pinning Goon underneath.
The men below worked to free him as the men on deck continued to fire rifle and pistol rounds at one another.
Golden John raised himself up, stunned on his hands and knees, trying to regain his senses after the powder keg blast.
Just as he stood up and shook out the remaining cobwebs, he noticed that his ship was in shambles and the crew looking rather panicked. He began to issue more orders to rally his troops just before a burning pain struck him in the chest. Looking down, he saw a dark patch begin to grow on his fine silk shirt. Reaching up he touched it with is finger and pulled it away to reveal the unmistakable trace of blood. He looked up to see Rhodes standing across from him holding a smoking rifle in his hands.
Rhodes shrugged and said “Nothing personal John. Just business.”
As the inky blackness took Golden John Long the pirate, the battle turned against his crew even faster.
Hours later, the two ships were moored together as the crew of the Dawyn unloaded the remaining wealth from the Golden Axe.
”So she’s not salvageable then?” asked Rhodes as Vedin and the Captain hopped aboard.
Shaking their heads in unison, the Captain replied, “Not with that gaping hole left in her by your man’s bomb. She’s takin on water faster than a man in the desert. We’ll have to cut her loose within the hour before she pulls us down with her.”
Vedin nodded in agreement adding, “Besides, we’ve looted all she had to offer. Overall Long was carrying about 15 chests of gold n gems. But he also had 7 contracts that were filled but hasn’t been collected on. That’s them in them barrels there that Goon is seeing too,” he pointed.
Rhodes arched a brow, “Worth?”, he asked.
Vedin winked and turned to supervise the storage of the plunder taken from the pirate ship.
The prisoners were given a choice, stay on board the sinking vessel or work on the Dawyn until they reached the nearest isle where they could be put off. Either way, the pirate way was bleak, no matter how it was dyed.