Campaign of the Month: March 2008
The Nemedian Chronicles
Cuana Chapter 11 Entry 1
The sea took some getting used to. I had heard tales, of course – glistening blue waters that stretched in every direction as far as the eye could see, all manners of creature large and small, dire and benign living beneath its surface. Fantastic ships riding the swells, carrying fortunes in cargo to and from strange and distant lands. All sorts of stories I had heard, but none had adequately depicted the utter vastness of the sea like my own eyes did upon first seeing it. Still somewhat taken aback by it all, I had spent the last few days in silent, grudging obedience as a lowly deckhand upon the Dragons Valor, scrubbing the deck and performing menial chores with my comrades while many of the veteran crew did little but lie about. Obviously there is an unofficial ranking among the crew, and in order to observe and better learn it, I bit back the occasional temptation to protest, kept quiet and did what I was told. In turn I was left to do my work without any admonishment or hazing from the crew.
It had been suggested to us that we adopt different names for ourselves – that we take on an alias. The reason for which was that even the fairest mercenary or privateer often find themselves having a reputation far bloodier than the acts they perpetrated. After earning knighthood in both Ophir and Aquilonia, along with the reputations that accompany such titles, I could understand the wisdom in adopting a new name. It also occurred to me that to carry such titles onto a ship such as this would invite trouble from sailors who would enjoy making sure that I understood that no such titles held any sway upon the ship. During my time serving as a soldier in the Border Kingdoms, one of the sergeants had taken to call me Malleus – the word for Hammer in his native tongue – for the inexpert way in which I would bash at opponents with my blade as a new recruit. I decided to adopt that as my name, so to this crew – and even to my companions – my name is Malleus.
Speaking of my companions, they have all effected new names as well: the northman is Hollan, the Stygian is Abizar, and the Hyrakanian goes by Cortos.
We had been several days out to sea, Hollan, Abizar, Cortos , and myself all busily preoccupied in scrubbing the deck planks yet again. By all appearances, this was to be our lot until newer recruits were brought aboard. It became apparent to me that this was a method for teaching us our place, both with regard to taking orders from the ships officers and as a reminder from the crew, lazing about the ship, that we were new meat. It may have been my size, that I spoke little, or more likely that I quietly followed orders, but I was left alone to do my work. Not all my companions fared the same. At one point, Hollan, having grown tired of watching one particularly lazy bastard lounging by the rail, got up and grabbed the man, bellowing that it was his turn to do some scrubbing. That brought prompt threats from the bosun, angrily shaking the coiled whip that he carried in a menacing fashion under the northman’s nose. Hollan reluctantly released the startled crewman and went back to work.
I was starting to notice that there seemed to be an uneasiness among some of the crew. I overheard bits of grumbling here and there and learned that many felt that we were either in or near to Stygian waters, yet that we had not made any effort to board any ships at all. The crew were beginning to grow restless, so that night I decided to try to take advantage. I struck up a conversation with three of the crew as we were all below, preparing to bed down for the night. I learned that they felt that Captain Balthazar had lost his nerve. They felt that there should be plenty of opportunity to raid Stygian merchant vessels in the area, but that we had been steering clear of even the easiest of targets for plunder. I told them that they were right – that I didn’t sign on to scrub decks and just watch fat merchant ships sail by, and that I was getting pretty damned tired of it. With that, I laid down in my bunk to get some sleep. Nothing that I had said was any different than what they had been saying, but I knew that at the very least, should the general dissatisfaction among the crew grow, that they would know who’s side I was on.
I was awakened in the middle of the night by a hand on my shoulder shaking me awake and the urgent whisper of Abizar in my ear. He had been cut, and sought my ability to patch flesh with needle and thread. The man must be able to see like a cat in the darkness, for the cabin was so dark that I couldn’t even see his hand on my shoulder. There were no lanterns or torches anywhere – the sailors very understandably take a very dim view of casually employing open flame on a wooden craft – and I had to decline my companion’s request. I am no healer – I simply have some skill in applying field dressings and stitching up gashes. As meager as these skills are, I need to be able to see what the hell it is that I am doing. I did not even bother to ask what had happened, and even if I had I probably would have received a cryptic half-answer at best. Unhappy, but grunting his understanding, the Stygian padded back to his bunk and I returned to my slumber.
The dim light of dawn was spilling into the cabin when we were all awakened, being summoned on deck by order of the captain. Abizar was looking for a different shirt to wear, fearing to go above deck in his slashed and bloodied clothes. As he searched frantically for something else to wear, everyone else raced to go topside, where we all fell into line standing shoulder to shoulder. Captain Balthazar, anger quite plain in his demeanor, walked slowly down the line of sailors while telling us that three crewmen had been witnessed jumping overboard last night, and that he intended to find out why. As he was about to continue, the Stygian came running over and got in line, wearing a grubby rag of a shirt that he had found somewhere. The captain rounded on him angrily and had the bosun tie him to the mast, tear the ragged shirt off his back, and then gave the Stygian fifty lashes. I almost intervened, but a look of caution from Hollan and a display of relative indifference on the part of the Stygian stayed me. He suffered the pain and humiliation of the lash with stoicism, which is no easy feat. As he was being released, Hollan stepped up and began hollering out his displeasure at doing nothing but scrubbing decks when we could be raiding any of the ships we had let sail by over the last few days. The captain rounded on the Aesir, asking him if he would like some of the same that the Stygian had received, and the bosun came over with his whip in hand, looking quite eager to use it again. Hollan backed down, but I noticed a lot of glances back and forth among the crew at my friend’s words. They felt the same as we did at the lack of activity, and I began to wonder how long it would take until their displeasure inspired them to action.
A short while later a cry from the lookout told us that there was an island up ahead. The captain commanded that we continue sailing toward it, and started ordering the crew to prepare to land. No sooner had we set foot on the beach when Hollan challenged the bosun to a fight to the death. The sailor glowered at the northman and rounded on him to meet the challenge, but he was completely outmatched. It was one of the briefest combats I have ever witnessed – Hollan hit him so hard that the bosun was little more than a split carcass lying in the sand. According to the pirate code – as I learned it anyway – that made Hollan the new bosun to serve under the captain. Balthazar felt differently though, and drawing his weapon and turning on Hollan, said that the northman would pay for killing such a useful crewman. Everyone drew back as the two met, but again the combat favored my friend. After suffering several serious wounds, the captain cried for help and all of his officers joined in the fight against Hollan in order to save their leader. The formality of their so-called code broken, I drew my blade and stepped into the fight, killing one of them instantly and nearly killing a second. The battle was over quickly – the captain lay unconscious in the sand and those that fought at his side lay dead. Hollan turned to the rest of the crew that had come ashore and proclaimed himself captain, and that we were now going to begin actively raiding other vessels as we came upon them. That brought an immediate cheer from the sailors, who had all had enough of the captain and his mysterious refusal to loot any merchant ships. I was named as captain’s mate, Abizar became the new bosun, and Cortos was now the bosun’s mate. I suggested that while we were on the island that we ought to forage for vegetables, fowl, and search for fresh water. Hollan agreed, so I rounded up a few of the men and we searched the small island for whatever we could gather.
When I returned, I saw that Hollan had spared Balthazar, but was leaving him alone on the island because he said his wife had been buried here exactly one year ago today and that he was returning a ring and necklace to her gravesite. If that is the case, then he may as well just lay down in the grave alongside her, because there was little fresh water and even less in the way of edible plants anywhere that we had searched – it would be tough to survive here if left to fend for oneself. The former captain laughed as he taunted us for killing the navigator – which was admittedly a pretty good point – but there was nothing to be done for it now, so we left him sitting in the sand and trying to staunch his wounds while the rest of us returned to the ship. Twilight was fast approaching and we wanted to be aboard before it became dark. We were carrying the meager supplement to our supplies aboard when one of the crewmen, pale as snow and pointing toward the figurehead shrieked is that a crow? Apparently a crow landing on the ship is a dark omen of some kind. it is! Someone kill it or we’re doomed! Cortos hit it with an arrow but only damaged its wing, and it fluttered awkwardly down toward the water. It’s not dead! the sailor continued to shriek, so I launched myself overboard. intent on grabbing the thing and crushing it to death.
I was unprepared for my first swim out in open seawater. I expected to be encumbered by the leather and arms I wore, but the current and swells were something new to me. One moment I could see the bird as it struggled to stay afloat, the next moment I could see nothing but water as I was pitched downward between the waves. When next I saw the crow, it was much farther away than I had expected it to be, and I began to hope that it had only managed to flutter that distance in an unsuccessful attempt at flight. I tried to swim after it but a swell washed over me and I found myself a good distance underwater. I came back up to the surface in the apex of another swell, giving me a decent view of the surface of the water around me, but I saw no sign of the bird. It was quickly growing dark, and I had to strain my eyes in an effort to see a black bird atop the water in the gathering gloom. I thought I saw it, but it looked to be quite a way from me now. One more attempt at swimming after it caught me in another swell, and I was back underwater once again. I knew as I came back to the surface that this was pure futility, so I swam back to the ship and climbed aboard. The crew were anxious to know if the crow was dead, and I told them ‘the thing has a mangled wing – you saw Cortos hit it with his arrow. I swam after the thing and saw it floundering in the water. It can’t walk, it can’t swim , and it damn well can’t fly. It’s dead’. I was a little surprised at the reaction that met my words, because they all visibly relaxed somewhat. I had expected to have to display a wet, feathery corpse before they would put the issue out of their minds.
Along with my new position as mate came my own private cabin. I inspected the small room and found it quite to my liking, so I laid down on my newly acquired bed and quickly fell asleep.
Morning soon passed into midday as we got used to running things on board. The promise of looting had done quite a bit for the mood of the crew, who worked with a refreshed attitude. Rigging was inspected, boarding hooks and coils of rope were made ready, blades were sharpened, and sails were unfurled and angled for maximum speed. Early in the afternoon we spotted a ship which was soon identified as a Stygian warship. It had spotted our sails and were coming after us. By the profile it cut we could see quite plainly that she was a larger craft than the Dragon>s Valor, and the reputation of the Stygian navy was such that we decided to flee, the blessings of the crew with us. In just a few minutes we could see that ours was the slower craft, and the Stygian vessel began to bear down on us. Well, it was no merchant ship, but the crew wanted some action and they were about to get it. Hails of arrows flew at us, arcing from the enemy vessel and raining down amid the crewmen. We trimmed back the sails and slowed to a near-halt and the war ship slid alongside to our starboard. Amid volleys of arrows, boarding hooks were thrown from the Stygian craft and the ropes drawn taut, pulling us up nearly flush against the warship. We were able to repel them in their attempts to board us twice, then we surged onto their deck and began cutting through their ranks. I leapt over the open space between the ships and landed on their deck, cutting down one, then another two who came at me. Their captain rushed me, but was rewarded with a bloody gash down his side before my backswing opened him the length of his torso. Blood gurgling in his throat, he fell at my feet. One last of the Stygians was before me, but he raised his hands and plead to be spared. As I was trying to gauge the sincerity of his surrender, Abizar rushed to my side and bid me stay my hand, that this man could be of use to us. I looked back to the man I had spared and nodded my intent to let him live. With that, I bent down and grabbed the hat worn by the Stygian captain and placed it upon my head. Looking around I saw that the last of the fighting was just coming to an end, so I roared ‘the ship is ours, lads!’ Cheers rang from all directions, and as an afterthought I called out ‘make sure we spare their navigator!’