by E.W. Stryker
A merchant ship, attacked by a gang of pirates. The opening pages to a fantasy novel.
|A Little About This Piece ▼
Chapter 1 - The Dangerous Calm
“Row, row, ya sorry sacks! Else these doldrums will be the death of us!” The bo’s’n cried out at the men, as they shoveled their oars through the still water.
He continued, “The pirates have us if ya don’t row harder. If ya aren’t bloodied on the hand, ya need to row harder!”
On deck, the coastline became visible in the distance. The wind had been almost nil for weeks and rations were running low onboard the vessel. The pirates’ galley encroaching on them; it’s nimble design made it skate with ease across the open water toward the merchant ship.
Taking advantage of the lack of wind, and the cumbersome size of the vessel they were pursuing, the pirates pushed their way up toward the merchants, closing in. It seemed like seconds to all those watching from the merchant ship, but hours had passed.
As the merchant ship came into range, the pirates began to turn starboard, exposing their port side to the stern of the merchant ship.
The five cannons sat atop the ship above the men who rowed her, exposing themselves to the merchants, as death at their door. Without hesitation, they fired on the downward roll at the single-masted ship, their round shots hurtling toward the humble merchants. The first two shots caught what wind there was and landed in the water near the bow and the third came up well short. The fourth shot, raked across the starboard of the merchant ship, entering amidship and pummeling everything that got in its way, before exiting aft and sinking with its brothers. As it flew through the ship, it struck the oar of one of the young men and ripped it from his hands. The wood splintered into pieces from the impact and knocked him down to the deck.
The final shot followed past the starboard side. When it splashed down, it sent a ripple of water through the freshly made hole, soaking the man in seawater.
As he lie there, head bloodied, and unable to move from the trauma, he could hear the pirates’ grappling hooks clink on the deck above. This was followed by the louder, more intimidating sound, as the boarding ramp slammed down from the pirates’ ship and a dozen men’s boots tramped across.
Within a few minutes, the young man awakened from his stupor while being escorted through the lower deck. As he walked, struggling to maintain his footing from the combination of the blow he had taken and the myriad of obstacles that surrounded him. Bits of the ship were scattered, it was clear that the cannonball that hit did a number. Water was seeping in from the exit-hole of the blast. The damage done would be too much to repair.
It wasn’t just the ship, however, as the water engulfing the deck was turning a vibrant shade of red as it mixed with the blood of the unlucky men aboard. A few of them, not smashed by the cannonball, had a variety of other wounds. One of them, the bo’s’n of the merchant ship, lie on the ground, with his head sitting near where it belonged, dangling by his spine and the remainder that hadn’t been hacked away by one of the pirates. His cutlass still lay in a pool of bloody seawater, just past his right hand. Another man, one of the slaves that was being transported, could be seen attempting to push himself up with his right arm, the only part of his body that still had movement. His face was fully submerged. A poignard that was no doubt stolen from a nobleman was left stuck in his back.
As he trudged through, the pirate leading him took a moment to watch, as the slave struggled less and less until stopping after his lungs filled with the water, bile and blood of his shipmates. This delay left no one else alive below deck. The rest of the pirates and anyone who may have survived were already up the stairs, heading for the other ship.
The young man, while battered, had enough intellect to know what would become of him if he followed the pirate.
While his captor watched the show, he crept back toward the remains of the bo’s’n and reached for his cutlass. This was the moment that something else happened. Something that hadn’t occurred in weeks, which caused the ship to rock; the winds had returned.
Unused to the swaying, the man stumbled and fell, making a racket as he did and nearly slicing his own leg with the cutlass he’d procured. The pirate, in a panicked rage, reached for his weapon, a short-barreled blunderbuss. He pulled it from it’s holster and aimed at the man, who was recovering from his fall. Without hesitation, he slammed back the trigger, which made a heavy clicking noise as he did.
“Fuck,” he breathed out, “powder’s wet.”
As he said this, the man lunged at him with the sword, not giving him the opportunity to reach for his own, piercing it deep into his gut. The pirate yelled out in agony as the sword slid back out, and went silent as the man pushed it back in.
Above them were two more pirates that were carrying loot back to their ship. They stopped in their tracks when they heard their comrade yelling below, before dropping the box they were carrying and running back toward the stairs. The man below could hear their footsteps clunking along the wood planks and moved into position to meet them next to the base of the stairwell. As the first one got to the bottom, he smashed down on him with the sword, cutting deep into his right forearm, through the meat and opening his radial artery. The pirate reached for his arm, his heart racing. The cut was his end and he knew it. With each pump of his heart, blood spurted out in a pressurized stream, the first one splashed some 15 feet from where he stood. Despite his best effort, no amount of pressure would stop the blood from pouring down his arm, adding to the sacrifice that was given to the sea on that day.
Meanwhile, the second pirate, seeing the attack from the stairwell, came down prepared and engaged the man in a brief, but ugly sword fight. The two shared several clashes of their swords, with each hit drawing what stamina they had out. After several good blows, the man, not fully recovered from his earlier concussion from the cannon and exhausted from the conflict made his first misstep, giving the pirate opportunity to knock him supine. As he fell to the ground, the pirate moved fast. Circling his sword from the ground, over his head in an attempt to use his full strength to crash down on the man. But, in his haste, he failed to notice a low beam running in its path and stalled as the sword stuck into the wood. In that moment, the man clasped tight onto his own sword and thrust it upwards into the pirates throat.
The pirate’s lifeless body slid down the blade, before reaching the crossguard and falling on the man, who didn’t have the strength to hold up the dead weight.
As he shoved the dead man’s body off him, he heard more footsteps coming down the stairs, more cautiously than the pirate’s he had just taken out. Half a dozen more pirates came in, followed by a final, seventh pirate. All the pirates he had seen so far were dressed in a variety of tattered clothing. None of them matching, and brightly colored. A sign they had been stolen over time from different plunders. Some wore bandanas, while others had long, unkempt hair that was tied back. And still, others wore knitted caps that sagged on one side. One of the six that came in, had a makeshift leather patch that covered the empty socket of his left eye and bare, dirty feet. This made for easier mobility in his acts. The captain, while not the largest of the seven men, was dressed in finer clothing. On his head was a crimson cocked hat, with a long gold feather sticking up from one side. He had on a black, silk shirt, covered by a long velvet coat, matching his tricorne hat. His face was rough and scarred, a proven fighter by the looks of it. Some of the scars were hidden by a medium-length, fire-red beard that hadn’t been trimmed in quite some time. He wor silken black trousers, that flowed as he walked, tucked in to the dark brown boots that went up his calf.
The man, still lying on the ground, covered in gore from the lives he had taken, now had a despondent look on his face. He knew what was about to happen and that there was no way out of it; he had given up.
As the captain approached him, his right hand over his waist, clasped onto a pistol that was still holstered, he drew it and aimed at the man.
“What’s your name, boy?” His voice was gravelly, but well modulated. As if it had been worn down from years on the sea, but still had a sense of care.
He had withdrawn his pistol from its holster and now had it aimed dead at the mans face, the barrel looking down on him, ready to put an end to this day as he cocked the hammer.
The man was nonplussed by the question, wondering why he hadn’t already been killed and if the answer he gave somehow mattered. He spoke, trying not to show fear, “Thomas Edwards, sir.”
A small grin started to grow across the captains face and soon he was laughing hard from his belly, along with his crew.
Without notice, the captain stopped laughing and a shot rang through the ship. The pirate that Thomas had stabbed was fidgeting, blood still streaming from his wounds. When the sound of the death machine ceased, there was complete silence and the pirate was still. The captain was staring at Thomas, peering into the depths of him. “I’m not a sir.”
He turned and walked up the stairs, his boots making a heavy thud with each step.
Three of the pirates approached Thomas, two of them grabbing him by the shoulder and forearm and pulling him forward. The other one tying a handcuff knot around his wrists and dragging him up the stairs and onto the pirates ship.
After shoving off, the captain commanded one of his men to sink the ship, “Send the evidence under.”
Thomas watched as he went below deck, returning a few moments later with a pair of glass grenades. He lit the first and lobbed it onto the merchant ship, a black tar spilled out as it landed, shattering on the deck. Within seconds, the tar was hidden under a thick orange flame that began to spread as the tar seeped out across the deck. He lit and threw the second one a little farther toward the bow, laughing, “The end’a tha’ ol’ bitch.”
As they sailed away, Thomas watched as the ship he had worked on for the last two years became engulfed, before sinking to the depths. As he gazed out at the wreckage, he wondered what his life would be like now with the crew of The Damnation, if it would continue at all.
He was seated with two of his crewmates on the top deck. Both of them looked like hell. One of them, a young boy, was beaten to a point that both of his eyes had swollen closed. The top of his head was smeared in a thick coat of red paint from a large bald spot where the hair had been ripped out of his scalp as he was dragged from ship to ship. The other one, the carpenter had been in dozens of skirmishes onboard, fixed hundreds of holes, repaired masts and rigging. But now he was perched in a daze, staring blankly at the blue waves that were now rolling. A small amount of blood would creep from his lips as he emanated each wheezy breath. He had, as best he could, both arms clutched up to his stomach, which show bare his chest. A large bruise covered the entirety of what was shown. This wasn’t the first time he’d seen it, one of the gunners on an old navy ship who was in the wrong way of a cannon firing. He was dead within hours. The carpenter, however, may be a bit luckier, as a pair of pirates helped him down below deck, to be checked by the doctor they had on board.
As they walked by, the young man, Morgan Dexter, spit out at the pirates, “Fucking pirate scum.”
The men dropped the carpenter and went for their swords. Not wanting a fight to break out, the captain approached, walking with haste. Hearing his approach, they resheathed their weapons and waited on his command.
“Mr. Dexter, is that anyway to treat your gracious host?” He went on, always making a point to prove his dominance, “I think he’s thirsty, lads. Give him a drink of water.” They grabbed Morgan, fastening a rope to the one they wrapped around his wrists and threw him over the port side of the ship.
He screamed as he splashed down into the water before going silent as three men on the starboard side grabbed the other end of the rope and began reeling him to their side. Upon resurfacing, Morgan was gasping for air, fresh blood was coming from a series of new wounds all over his body, where he dragged across the barnacles that had grown on the underside of the ship.
They pulled him onboard and he cried out in agony. His captors on deck burst out into laughter, the sight of his keelhauling would highlight their day. They left him where he lie and all went about what they were doing.
To read chapter two, please visit: "The Prison of the Trade"