Part 17: Kill or be killed

Captain Andral Fairbreeze looked South with a grim look on his face. Far in the distance, he could see the tip of a mast, and the tops of red and black sails. Navigator Graycloud stood next to him, quiet, an angry look on his weathered face.

“Square rigger,” said Graycloud. “It’ll be on top of us in hours if we head North.”

“Let’s make a tack,” said the Captain. “Put as much distance between them and us as we can, then head South. Just till it gets dark. And then we try to slip by them in the night.”

Dorian Graycloud took a deep breath. “Aye, Cap’n. That’s what I was thinking. Can’t go south for too long, though. Water gets unhealthy there.”

“Orcs or pirates, pirates or Orcs.”

“What about Orc pirates?”

Andral Fairbreeze grinned at his navigator. “Would be consistent with the amount of luck we always have in these waters. Right. Take her through the wind.”

With only a few softly spoken words, the crew jumped to the ropes, and Aviana’s Wingbeat turned round. Smitty walked up onto the bridge.

“That sail to the South. Is that the bad news I think it is?”

“Correct, Lieutenant,” said the Captain. “We’ll try to outmaneuver them for now. They’re square-rigged, so they can’t go as far into the wind as we can. But the bad news is that we need to go North, and they’ll easily outrun us downwind.”

“Is there anything we can do?”

The Captain looked into Smitty’s eyes. “The usual tactics for pirates are to jump lightly defended ships, such as us, with so many men that we haven’t a chance.”

“How many?”

“I could see about two dozen people on board. Take away maybe six for deck crew, and you’re left with about eighteen fighers.”

“Are they any good at fighting?”

“Unschooled enthusiasts, most of the time. They rely on numbers, and they’re usually completely ruthless. They fight like men possessed.”

Smitty nodded. “We can take them. We’ve got five swords, four shields, one pike, and two shooters, three if I count Lady Selena. Also three hunters’ pets. I’m not counting on Mr. Cullan. What about your crewmembers?”

“They’re the best seamen, and the best friends I’ve ever sailed with, but they are not soldiers.”

“Understood. Then let them concentrate on sailing the ship, and leave the fighting to us. As long as we can keep them from jumping us all at once, we’ve got a good chance.”

“Very well. I suggest you keep your men out of sight, until it is clear there’s going to be a fight.”

“As you wish.”

“Oh, and Lieutenant?”

“Captain?”

“The Bloodsail never take prisoners, and don’t negotiate. If we lose, we all die.” Captain Andral Fairbreeze looked darkly at Smitty. “They also torture for pleasure and information. Do not let anyone you care about fall into their hands alive.”

X

The sun rose in a blood-red sky. On the bridge of Aviana’s Wingbeat were the Captain, the Navigator and Smitty. They looked North to see the Bloodsail Buccaneers bearing down on them, square-rigged sails trimmed as close to the wind as they could, heaving in the swell. They were having to change their direction often. As the Wingbeat’s crew watched, they opened their cannon hatches, rolled out all their cannon and fired. Cannonballs dropped into the ocean, hissing, a few dozen yards behind their stern.

“That’s right, me hearties,” said Dorian Graycloud. “Waste your ammo, and thank ye kindly for letting us know your range.”

The Captain sneered. “I think it’s time to inform them that we’d like them to bugger off now. Sailor Mistgaze! Please mount the Gentle Persuader.”

“Aye-aye, Sir,” said Filyen, and disappeared below decks.

Underneath the bridge, next to the galley, the swordsmen were hiding. Filyen pointed at a large chest.

“Could I get at that, please, Gentlemen?”

From the chest, Filyen took a metal tube about seven foot long, and a few things that looked like beer mugs, which she carried on her back on a piece of rope. She pointed at Swordsman Stanley Gerald.

“Could you hold on to the barrel and keep it steady? Just to keep me from knocking into things? Thanks, you’re a darling.”

Filyen and Stanley walked out onto the deck.

“Thanks, sweetie. I’ve got it now. Don’t let the nasties see you.”

Swordsman Gerald stared at Filyen. “Bloody hell, you’re strong!”

“Naah, only a light gun. Get out of sight!”

Filyen made her way up the stairs to the bridge, and mounted the gun on the stern socket. The ‘beer mugs’, she dropped on the floor. She selected one of them, rammed it into the cannon, and turned the screw that secured it into place. From her pocket, she took two balls of wax, which she pushed into her ears. Then, she struck sparks and lit her fuse. She looked at the Captain.

“Fire at will,” said the Captain, with a nod.

Filyen turned her eyes to the pirate ship. She grabbed the handle at the back of the cannon, and turned it up, making the barrel of the cannon move along with the movements of the ship. Her swivel gun was a fairly advanced piece of artillery for the time. It had a rifle bore, spiral grooves inside the barrel that made the projectiles spin when they were fired, to keep them steady. The range of this gun was much, much longer than the heavy, primitive guns used by the pirates, though it didn’t have the power to sink ships. It didn’t have to. In perfect concentration, Filyen kept the barrel of her gun pointing at the main mast of the pirate ship.

“Firing.”

Everybody stuck their fingers in their ears. Filyen touched her fuse to the black powder in her gun, and it went off with a hellish bang. Filyen’s eyes didn’t blink as she followed the trajectory of the shell, with a smile on her face. Far away on the pirate ship, one of the yard-arms suddenly sagged, and the sail came down.

“Good shot!” Dorian Graycloud put a hand on Filyen’s shoulder.

“I was aiming for the bridge,” said Filyen.

Without looking at her hands, she took the breech out of the gun, dropped it behind her and fitted the next. This time, she aimed for the pirates’ bow sprit. If she could get that, their forestay might come loose and all the masts could come down. Filyen’s eyes narrowed, concentrating on the place where the bow sprit was attached to the ship. The cannon thundered again. Filyen shook her head as the shell took out a piece of the railing, but not much more. She picked up another breech, this one marked with a red line.

“Grapeshot, Sir. See if I can scare them a bit.”

“Carry on, Sailor.”

Grapeshot was the least subtle of all the loads she had. It consisted of many small pieces of lead, designed to spread over a reasonably small area. It would kill anyone in that area. Filyen loaded, fired. Pieces of lead tore into the hull of the ship, ripped pieces out of the sail. The pirate ship suddenly veered to port. presenting its side to Aviana’s Wingbeat. With a massive roar, all her cannon belched fire and smoke, and a hail of cannonballs flew towards them. Only one of them landed anywhere near the ship.

Filyen had reloaded. Another shell. Her cannon roared. The shell smashed through the pirate ship underneath the bridge.

“One left, Captain. Grapeshot.”

“Save it,” said Captain Fairbreeze. He looked at their wind vane. “Due south, Mr. Graycloud.”

“Aye, Sir.”

X

Berrin sat on a chest, in the Fo’c’sle, next to Nægling. Nægling had drawn her sword, and placed it tip down on the floor. It rested against her forehead. Her eyes were closed in concentration. She was waiting for the order to fight to call upon the Light for her battle spells, and not a muscle on her whole body moved. The foredeck was theirs to defend. Berrin looked at Evert, as though fighting with himself over something. He put his big, calloused hand on Evert’s shaggy head.

“My lad, this is not a fight for you.”

Nægling looked up, and watched Berrin as he spoke a few syllables of power. Evert faded from sight.

“Sister,” said Berrin. “I am going to do something I promised meself I’d never do, but I have to. In yer prayers, spare a few words, that the poor beast may forgive me.”

Nægling simply nodded, watching Berrin as he stood up and gathered his Hunter’s magic round him. The lights of his spell of resurrection flowed about him, gathered in front of him, grew large. Then, there was that special sound that grizzly bears make, a deep, almost Human voice. Nægling stared. This creature would easily overlook her by a foot standing on its hind legs, but it looked… damaged. One of its ears was half missing. One of its eyes was a milky white, and there were bald patches on its fur where wounds had healed. It bowed its large head to Berrin, and gently head-butted him in the stomach. Berrin ran his fingers through the fur on the bear’s head, and Nægling saw there were tears in his eyes as he knelt before the beast.

“I’m sorry, old friend. Sorry for dragging you away from your rest. Ye have done so much for me already, and let your blood on the ground for me. And I ain’t gonna lie, that may happen again now. I need your strength, to keep me and me friends from harm.”

Berrin stood up, looking down on his bear.

“But this time, I’ll not desert ye. I’m done runnin’ away from any enemy. We will win, or we will die together. By Rock, Sky and Forest, I swear it.”

Berrin looked round to Nægling, and wiped his face on his shirtsleeve.

“Sister Nægling, let me introduce ye. This is me grizzly bear. His name is Ben, and in all of Azeroth, ye will not find one as mighty as he.”

Nægling stepped forward, put her hand on the bear’s head. Ben looked up to her, and Nægling laughed, stroking the fur. She turned her eyes to Berrin.

“He looks like me,” she said.

X

Aviana’s Wingbeat spent all morning playing cat and mouse with the pirates, tacking back and forth between the cannon balls. The soldiers and hunters kept themselves hidden, while the crew worked their vessel as though they were joined to it, as though they, together, were its soul. And who is to say that they weren’t? Finally, in the late afternoon, Captain Fairbreeze decided that they could no longer risk going further south. They were getting perilously close to Durotar, the home of the Orcs, close even to Orgrimmar itself. Any Orc destroyer or battleship would have Aviana’s Wingbeat in splinters before the day was done. The captain gave the order, and Aviana’s Wingbeat turned North, quickly picking up speed, her sail far out, running ahead of the wind, leaping over the waves like a tiger leaps over the snowy plains.

But this was where the pirate ship came into its own. Its many sails spanned across, port to starboard, and even with one of them missing, they still had the advantage over Aviana’s Wingbeat, and her single lateen sail. Captain Fairbreeze turned once again to his Albatross form and leapt into the air, daring the pirates’ missiles in a reconnaissance flight over the pirate ship. As the Sun was on its last leg towards the horizon, the pirates caught up with them. They could hear the voices, promising pain, suffering, and finally, as a mercy, death.

Kuryon and Filyen stood on the deck, cutlasses in their hands that were, against this many enemies, mostly ornamental. They were there only to keep up the illusion to the very last. Kuryon put his hand on Filyen’s shoulder, and they smiled at each other.

“Filyen Mistgaze, you know what I’m like with the ladies. I just want you to know. For you, and only for you, I meant every word.”

Now, he tells me,” said Filyen. She swished her cutlass in the air, and made ready to run for her life.

There was a shout from the bridge as the pirate ship drew up alongside.

“Here they come!”

X

Metal hooks were thrown aboard, and the pirates pulled the ships together. The pirate ship crunched into Aviana’s Wingbeat, and with cries of bloodlust, pirates leapt on board. Filyen ran aft. Kuryon ran fore’ard. Smitty sprang up from his hiding place under a sail on the bridge.

Attack!

With shields in front of them, swords out, and Sandra Pike behind them, the soldiers ran out of the galley. They placed their shields in a wall, and slashed and stabbed out at the pirates. Sandra stood behind them, and with her long pike stabbed any of the pirates that were unbalanced by the sword fighters. The door to the Fo’c’sle opened, and Nægling came running out, looking where the fight was.

Smitty shouted. “Nægling! Up on the Fo’c’sle! Get ’em!”

Nægling turned round, and ran up the stairs. Two, three Humans had swung onto the foredeck on lines attached to the yard-arms of their ship. Battle spells blazing, Nægling was upon them. One fell to her sword before any of them thought to fight back. There was a bang of a gun being fired on the bridge, and one of the pirates on the foredeck stumbled, and fell.

Hieronimo pulled the lever that put the next chamber up, aimed and fired again. She looked down on the main deck, and yelled a warning, unnecessarily. The massive figures were impossible to miss. Taller than even the tallest of Elves, clad in chainmail, heads like a bull’s with horns pointing forward. Gold rings were in their noses, and double-headed axes were in their three-fingered hands. The Tauren warriors bellowed, and jumped on board, swinging their axes. Swordsmen Brian Rhodes and Jack Alan leapt forward, shields out, catching the axes on the start of the downswing, before they could gain momentum and force. Since the monsters had their arms in the air, they had a wonderful opportunity to stab them in the stomach. Their swords could not penetrate the taurens’ armour, and they were shoved backwards.

With a fierce cry, Sandra Pike leapt forward. The sharp point of her pike pierced the chainmail armour, over the heads of her fellow soldiers. With an incredulous look in his eyes, the big Tauren looked at the spear in his chest, then at the puny Human woman who held it. He tried to grab the spearhead, but Sandra Pike pulled it back in a vicious slash that severed one of the tauren’s fingers. She turned the spear round, and with the sharp hook on the back side of the pike, pulled the Tauren forward. The creature fell on his knees, then on his face. Two swords found gaps in the chainmail armour, and the Tauren lay still.

There was a cry, words in the Dwarven language, and a large ball of dark fur wrenched itself through the galley door, raised itself on its hind feet, then charged. Half a tonne of anger unleashed itself upon the pirates, biting, raking enemies with its claws. From the other side, Bjorn joined the fray. Together, the two bears jumped on the remaining Tauren. Claws like steel ripped through armour as if it were paper, and the Tauren fell down, neck broken, bleeding, dead.

Sandra raised her pike, took a step back.

“That was fun! Got any more ye bastards?”

Smitty’s voice rang out from the bridge: “Shields up! Archers!”

A half dozen arrows came flying from the pirate ship. As one man, the swordsmen raised their shields, and Sandra ducked behind as the arrows clattered on the upturned shields.

“Selena! Hieronimo! Berrin! Target their archers!”

Selena’s eyes narrowed as she pulled out another arrow. “Please,” she murmured. She drew back, sighted along the arrow on one of the Blood-elf archers and let fly. She scored a direct chest hit, and the archer fell to his knees, trying to pull the arrow out. His movements slowed down, and he fell on his face.

X

More pirates, Humans, Goblins, Elves, came running towards the midships, cutlasses out, roaring with blood-lust. The shield wall held, and the deck became dangerously slippery with blood. The captain of the pirate ship screamed, and about half a dozen pirates of all shapes and sizes ran to the foredeck, where Nægling was fighting alone, keeping pirates away from Berrin so Berrin could shoot. This sudden onslaught was too much, though. Nobody wanted to be within sword’s reach of her, but she could not keep them all back, and two came through. They ran past her, and one of them attacked Berrin. The other ran down to the deck, behind the swordsmen.

“Hunter’s pets to the foredeck,” shouted Smitty.

Hugin leapt into the air, and plunged down on the pirates fighting Nægling. She grabbed one of the pirates, a Goblin, in her talons, and dropped him screaming over the side. Bjorn and Ben ran up the stairs, to Nægling’s aid.

X

One of the pirates had made it through the defences of Nægling and Berrin, and found himself behind the row of swordsmen, on the midships deck. He looked round, trying to figure out where he could do the most damage, then saw Filyen standing back to the Fo’c’sle, cutlass in hand, glaring at him. A cruel grin was on his face as he ran towards her. With eyes large with fear, Filyen struck out at the pirate. The pirate dodged her blade, closed in and stabbed. Filyen looked down and saw the blade deep in her stomach, astonished that it didn’t even hurt. The pirate twisted the blade, pulled it out and pushed its flat side against Filyen’s throat, pushing her up against the fo’c’sle. The pain hit. Filyen screamed.

“Got you, you little bitch. I love girls who think they can fight. Love to watch them die. You’re gonna die.”

He pushed his fingers into Filyen’s stomach. She screamed with the sudden stab of pain.

“All I need to do to kill you now is turn my blade. Want me to kill you yet? You will. Think it hurts now? This is nothing. Your bile is leaking into your gut. It’s gonna hurt a lot more. How about it girl? Quick slit of the throat?”

“No!”

“Maybe I’ll leave you to stew for a bit. When we’re done killing your friends, we can have some fun with you.”

Far away on the bridge, Hieronimo glanced across, and saw Filyen and the pirate. She knelt down, put her gun on the railing to steady it and aimed. The pirate’s body was in front of Filyen’s. Couldn’t shoot one without hitting the other. Hieronimo frowned in concentration.

“Move yer head, woman. Move yer head!”

The pirate pushed the blunt edge of his cutlass harder into Filyen’s throat, making her choke. His other hand grabbed her breast like a claw. He whispered in her ear. Filyen could feel his breath, his spit, on her cheek.

“You’re going to die with me on top of you, sweet thing. I’m going to look into your eyes when you-“

There was a sound like a sledge hammer hitting a melon, and the pirate’s skull exploded in a rain of blood and bone fragments, all over Filyen’s face. She screamed, then slowly slid down the wall of the fo’c’sle, leaving a dark smear of blood.

“Got you, ye bastard,” said Hieronimo.


In his hiding place in the galley, Cullan could just see Nægling fight. Deep within him, the Beast wanted to fight by her side, then when all enemies were dead, curl up at her feet and spend the rest of his life looking at her. This mildly annoyed Cullan. It would be very undignified. Freja Ravenwing sat next to him, also watching the fight. Noises of battle were all round them, guns firing, people screaming. Above all, they heard Lieutenant Smith’s voice shouting orders.

“Oh fils de salope,” said Freja, suddenly. She pointed across the deck. They saw Filyen slump against the wall, then lie on her back, breathing fast.

“Oh dear,” said Cullan.

“Well get her here, Mr. Cullan. What are you waiting for?”

“Quite.”

Cullan ran out of the galley, across the deck. Filyen lay slumped against the fo’c’sle, the pirate, sans head, lying across her legs. Cullan grabbed the corpse by an arm and a leg, and shifted it over the railing, splashing down into the sea. He put one arm underneath Filyen’s shoulders, another underneath her knees and picked her up from the floor. Filyen cried out, eyes screwed shut. She looked up into Cullan’s face, tears streaking her face.

“I don’t want to die.”

Cullan moved. “You won’t, Miss Mistgaze. The Captain would not allow it.”

“Hurts… please.”

Another one of the pirates had managed to break through and came running towards Cullan. Bjorn the bear leapt on him. Cullan ran through to the galley, where Freja had already cleared the table, and rolled up a blanket at one end to use as a pillow.

“Up here, Mr. Cullan. Quick!”

Cullan gently put Filyen down on the table. Freja grabbed one of her knives and without hesitating cut Filyen’s shirt and pulled it open. A large wound was in Filyen’s abdomen. A trickle of blood ran down the table. Freja took a deep breath, and put her hands on the wound. She concentrated, and a green glow surrounded her hands and Filyen’s stomach. Pearls of sweat were on her forehead. Filyen’s eyes were closed, and she cried in small sobs. The green glow disappeared. Filyen stirred.

Freja looked at Cullan. “Keep her steady, Mr. Cullan. I’m not done yet. Talk to her. Keep her mind off…” she jerked her head at Filyen’s stomach.

Cullan picked up Filyen’s hand, gently stroked her cheek.

“Those are very interesting markings, Miss Mistgaze. They complement the colour of your hair very well. What are they, if I may ask?”

Filyen opened her eyes. “Am I… am I going to…”

“Mrs. Ravenwing is seeing to it, Miss Mistgaze. Do not think about it. She’s just…” He looked at Freja.

“Out of mana,” said Freja, who was sitting on a bench, eyes closed, taking deep breaths. “Won’t take a minute. Pool the size of a thimble.”

“Freja…” Filyen suddenly closed her eyes, whimpering.

“Miss Mistgaze? Keep still. Your friend Mr. Swellrider will be complimenting you on your beauty for many years to come.”

“Kuryon?” Filyen opened her eyes, looked at Cullan. “He hasn’t done that for… at least twenty years.”

“Why not? You certainly deserve any compliment you receive.”

“He’s…” Filyen groaned. “Not interested in me… any woman… but his…” She faltered.

Freja put her hand on Cullan’s shoulder.

“Time for another go.”

Freja once more cast her spell of healing, until her mana was all used. She took deep breaths. Cullan whispered in her ear.

“The wound is still open. Are you able…”

Freja shook her head. “Working on internal injuries first. Easier that way. May need bandages. Excuse me. Must refill. Keep her talking. Keep her mind off the pain. Keep her still.”

Cullan picked up Filyen’s hard, strong hand, and gently stroked it.

“Mr. Swellrider is not interested in women? That is not my impression. He has a persistence worthy of a better cause.”

Despite everything, Filyen smiled.

“And is it… is it working?”

“Well, no. But not for lack of trying. He might want to change his tactics away from making personal remarks, however flattering.”

“Knows exactly… what he’s doing.” She blinked slowly. “I remember. The first time I came on board. Saw him. Thought all my birthdays come at once.”

“Did you?”

“He’s… good looking. No?”

“A fine figure of a Night-elf, that much I can see. I don’t feel I am competent to say more.”

“Trust me. Any girl. Leap on him with half a chance. Makes you sick to watch it.”

“And this does not agree with him?”

“Only eyes for two girls. Wife. Daughter. Other women. Just annoy him.”

Cullan laughed quietly. “I think I understand. He puts women off deliberately by being overly… let us call it ardent. Did that work with you?”

Filyen tilted her head back. “I’m all over him first night. He told me he wanted to eat chocolate off my…”

“Anatomy,” said Cullan, with a glint in his eyes.

“And more,” said Filyen. “Slept on the poop deck for a week. Then Freja explained.”

Freja gently nudged Cullan aside, put her hands on Filyen’s stomach for a third time. Filyen sighed. The green glow of Freja’s magic appeared again. The door banged open, and a big Orc appeared in the doorway.

“Healer! Kill healer! Lok’tar!”

Freja yelled, and threw pans and knives at the Orc. Cullan gently laid down Filyen’s hand. He reached for his daggers, a blue light gleaming in his eyes. Cuchullainn turned round, and sprang forward, with a feral growl. His poisoned daggers struck home once, twice, three times. He snarled at the Orc, dark green blood spattering over him. The Orc staggered, hand on Cuchullainn’s shoulder, then slumped to the ground.

Freja stared, mouth hanging open, cookpot in her hand. She slowly lowered it to the ground and looked at the dead Orc, then back up at Cuchullainn.

“Now who’s going to clean that all up, hm?”

Cuchullainn growled. “Ask the house servant. It’s his job.” He closed his eyes, breathed in deep, and found back the soothing melody of the Ritual. Cullan nodded at Freja.

“I will see to it as soon as this fight is over. Unless we lose. Then, the pirates can clean it up themselves.”


The captain of the Bloodsail Buccaneers’ pirate ship was not an idiot, sad to say. He had expected to capture a small, fat little ship with at most five or six crewmembers on board who could keep the crew entertained for hours while he swindled away their part of the loot. Instead, he’d hit on a ship full of soldiers, who were bored, and spoiling for a fight. He’d lost half his fighters already. Time and past time to pull out the heavy guns.

Selena was the first to spot him. A large, hooved, blue-skinned individual, dressed in hooded robes, staff in his hand.

Mage!” she yelled. “Watch it!”

She pulled back an arrow, let fly at the mage. Just before the arrow hit the mage, it bounced off an invisible barrier and skipped off.

“He’s shielded!”

And that was all anyone said for a while. The mage raised his staff, pointed his hand forward, and let fly a barrage of fireballs. The soldiers on the middle deck ducked behind their shields. Nægling turned her back to the mage, offering a quick prayer to the Light. Smitty raised his shield and pulled Selena behind him. He set his teeth as fireballs smashed into his shield, almost making it glow.

Captain Andral Fairbreeze scowled. “Oh damn you, I’m not having that! Mr. Graycloud, deal with those fires. I’m going under.”

The Captain leapt overboard, and disappeared below the surface.

On the middle deck, things were becoming worrisome. Swordsman Gerald had been a fraction of a second late ducking behind his shield and had been hit on the shoulder with a fireball. His clothes were on fire, and he was rolling on the deck, screaming, trying to put out the flames. Cullan came running out of the galley carrying a bucket of water, which he splashed over Mr. Gerald, putting out the flames. Gerald’s eyes were staring at the sky. His shoulder piece had melted, and the skin on his entire shoulder had turned black. Cullan took one look at the pirate ship, grabbed Swordsman Gerrald by his good arm and dragged him, screaming, into the galley for Freja to look at.

The swordsmen on the middle deck re-formed their much thinner shield wall. Meanwhile, the hunters opened fire on the mage, who didn’t seem to be affected much. Dorian and Kuryon ran from one end of the ship to the other, dodging pirates, tossing buckets of water at any starting fire.

There was a shout from Berrin. His grizzly Ben stopped what he was doing, then took a run-up and jumped on board of the pirate ship, making straight for the mage. Pirates attacked him from all sides, but the grizzly bear, grown to monstrous size in his rage, took no notice. The mage saw him coming, and gathered his magic for a fireball. He never got the chance. Ben crashed into the mage, grabbed his arm between his teeth, and tore it of in one jerk. Then, he went for the throat. The mage fell down in a crumpled heap and did not move again. All the pirates now attacked Ben from all sides, stabbing, slashing, trying to stay out of reach of tooth and claw. In a final surge of rage, Ben stood on his hind legs, swiped at all his enemies at the same time. Half a dozen swords, cutlasses pierced him, and with a final roar, he fell onto his back. The pirates hacked his body to pieces, cooling their anger on an enemy that wouldn’t fight back anymore.

Berrin’s eyes opened wide. He threw away his gun and pulled out his double-headed war axe. With a fierce Dwarvish battle cry, he ran down to the pirates. At that moment, just as he jumped, the ships were driven apart by a wave. A big Tauren saw him coming, swung his mace and caught Berrin in mid-air. Berrin fell between the two ships, just before they smashed together again, and was gone.

X

Smitty had thrown away his shield, because it was too hot to hold on to. He’d just seen the fire mage fall, and the events afterwards. He looked over the deck. Kuryon and Dorian had put out all the fires, and Dorian was heading back up to the bridge. Berrin was gone. Swordsman Gerrald was out of action. Nægling was unhurt, a shining figure in the gloom on the foredeck. Behind him, Selena screamed.

“Watch out!”

Smitty turned round in a flash, to see a chain-mailed Orc charging towards him. He kept spinning, out of the way, and slashed at the Orc’s back, without much effect. The Orc stopped himself just before going over the side, turned round, and faced Smitty.

“Going to break you little Man. You watch what we do with women while you die!”

Smitty didn’t say anything, but charged in, slashing out with his sword. The Orc parried his stroke, counter-thrust. Smitty retreated, and the stroke went wide. The Orc stepped forward, slashing out with his scimitar. Smitty flicked the blade away, pushed forward. The Orc grabbed Smitty’s sword arm, pulled it upwards and slashed down with his scimitar, hitting Smitty in the head and chest. Smitty fell onto his back, and the Orc stepped forward for the final blow.

He never got that far. With a deafening screech, Hugin dived into his face, attacking with beak and talons. The Orc’s arms flailed round wildly, trying to grab the bird. He managed to grab Hugin’s leg on the third try, and smashed the bird onto the deck with all his might, then stamped his foot down on her head.

He looked up, one eye remaining, blood spraying in a regular rhythm from his neck. Selena stood ten yards away, and shot an armour piercing arrow into the Orc’s chest. The Orc looked at it, then back at Selena. A second arrow hit the Orc. Then, a third. The Orc swayed on his legs. and Selena, out of arrows, ran towards him, staff out, and thrust the iron shodding straight into the Orc’s remaining eye. The Orc staggered backwards, clutching at his head, stumbled, and fell overboard, dragged down by his armour. Even before his body hit the water, Selena was on her knees next to Smitty, and pulled off his helm. His face was frighteningly still.

“Joseph!”

Selena wanted to slap Joseph’s face, make him look at her, make him not be… not be…

“Ow,” said Smitty. “That hurt.”

Dorian Graycloud walked up. “You see those Orcs? When they swing those ruddy big swords of theirs, you don’t want to be in front of them.”

“Thank you, Navigator,” said Smitty, trying to get up and failing.

At that moment, the whole pirate ship quivered. Selena looked over, and could just see the pirate’s helmsman being thrown over the side by a sudden movement of the steering wheel. Dorian Graycloud grinned.

“Those bastards have made the last mistake of their lives,” he said.

Selena looked at him. “What’s that?”

“They have pissed off Captain Andral Fairbreeze.” He looked at Selena. “Whatever you do. Don’t piss off the Captain. That was him taking out their rudder.”

Smitty was still struggling to get up, without success. Selena put a hand on his shoulder.

“Stay here,” she said. Then, she ran to the railing of the bridge and yelled.

“Cullan! The Lieutenant needs medical attention! Come get him! Sandra? Take your men to the pirate ship. Nægling! Help them! Hieronimo? Stay here. Let Bjorn take care of anyone that comes here, you shoot whoever needs shooting.”

Everybody looked at Selena, mouths hanging open.

DO it!”

Selena watched as the soldiers boarded the pirate vessel. No pet. No arrows left. No fighting skills to speak of. No use at all. May as well become Management. Next to her, Hieronimo’s gun went off.

Nægling sheathed her sword, found one of the ropes that the pirates had used to swing aboard, and used it. There were about twelve pirates left, including crew. Like on board Aviana’s Wingbeat, the crew wasn’t much use fighting. Unlike on board Aviana’s Wingbeat, they died quickly.

The remaining pirates were a different matter. They were only six, but they were the best of the fighters, still alive after all this time, and they fought for their lives, no longer for fun and profit. The Caer Bannog soldiers surrounded them, but the pirates fought off every attack, slowly retreating to the far railing. Two fell, more due to bad luck than bad judgement. Then, behind them, the sea started to boil. With a terrifying hiss, the head of an enormous sea snake appeared above the water, looked down, and fell on top of the last four pirates. The Caer Bannog soldiers retreated as with frightening speed, the snake wrapped itself round the pirates, and crushed them with incredible force. The snake slid back into the water, taking the pirates with it. It reappeared on the surface, slithered on board, and shrunk, changed shape. Captain Andral Fairbreeze took a deep breath of fresh sea air, then calmly walked to the bridge, up to the pirate captain.

The captain was a Blood-elf, impeccably dressed in black trousers, a spotless white shirt and a scarlet overcoat. He drew his sabre, raised it in front of his face, swished it through the air, then dropped it at the Captain’s feet.

“I surrender,” he said.

Captain Andral took one step forward, and with one punch knocked the pirate captain off his feet. He looked at Swordsman Rhodes.

“Tie him to the wheel.”

“Aye, Sir,” said Swordsman Rhodes.


“Captain?”

“Yes, Lady Selena?”

“I have a request to make of you.”

X

Selena stood on the deck of the ship, near the bridge, and looked down on the bodies. Swordsman Stanley Gerald had died of his wounds not an hour earlier. Uncle Berrin lay next to him. It would have been nice to say that they looked like they were sleeping, but they didn’t. Every drop of their suffering was clearly visible on their faces. Selena pulled a piece of canvas over them, turned round. Filyen was still fighting for her life, under the care of Freja. Smitty had had a nasty knock but would live. Selena looked at the pirate ship. At the wheel, she could see the pirate captain. Captain Fairbreeze stood in front of him, talking.

X

“What do you intend to do with me?”

“I intend to let you go,” said Captain Fairbreeze.

“I may be worth a ransom.”

“Really? How nice.”

Dorian Graycloud walked up.

“What’s in the hold, Navigator?”

“Linen. Silk from Shadowmoon. A few chests of gold and jewels. Not much. They were only just starting this trip.”

“Would you suggest we take the gold on board?”

Navigator Graycloud shook his grey shaggy head, and spat on the deck.

“Blood money. Take it on board, and we’ll be at the bottom of the sea before the month is out.”

“Any papers? Documents? Maps? We like those, no matter how much blood is on them.”

“Small suitcase. It’s in your cabin now.”

“Very well. Then I think we should not trouble our Captain any further. He has urgent matters to attend to.”

Captain Fairbreeze turned round, and everybody returned to Aviana’s Wingbeat. The ropes were cut, and the ships drifted apart. Kuryon stood by with a few bottles. closed off with a piece of cloth, filled with a strange-smelling liquid. A length of rope was attached to them. Using a flint and steel, Kuryon lit the cloth at the end of the bottles, and handed one to the captain, one to Dorian Graycloud. The captain swung the bottle round on its rope, and with a heave launched it onto the deck of the pirate ship. It shattered into a thousand pieces, and the deck of the pirate ship became one sea of flame. Dorian Graycloud did the same, on the foredeck.

Selena looked at the burning ship, and could hear its captain screaming curses, offering gold, pleading for mercy. She thought of Uncle Berrin, Stanley Gerrald, poor Filyen lying still in pain in the galley, and… her Joseph. Alive only because of his incredible luck and the workmanship of the Caer Bannog armourers. She sprang forward, and snatched the last fire bottle from Kuryon’s hand. Placing her feet firmly on the deck, she swung it round in a circle, once, twice, three times, then let it go, It landed near the bridge. She turned her back on the burning ship, ignored the screams of its single passenger, and looked at the Captain.

“I think we’re done here.”

“We are. Mr. Graycloud, Raise the sail. Head North.”

Navigator Graycloud pointed at two soldiers, then at the ropes.

“When I say pull,” he said, “pull.”


Smitty was lying in the captain’s bed. The captain had generously allowed him to, because he didn’t intend to go below decks before he could see Teldrassil. Selena was sitting next to him, with a bowl of water and some cloth, cleaning his wounds. Luckily, there was very little broken skin, but there were nasty bruises. He was still not breathing as easily as he’d want. He looked up into Selena’s blue eyes, gleaming in the candle light.

“You shouldn’t do this,” he said.

“Nonsense,” said Selena. “You put your body between me and someone who wanted to torture and then kill me, and goodness knows what else. I am seeing to your injuries. This is right and proper.”

“There’s a healer on board.”

“Freja is taking care of Filyen, poor girl. She’s much worse off than you. Besides.” Selena smiled. “I don’t mind. I don’t get to see you with your shirt off as often as I did at the Caer.”

“I was only…”

Selena threw her wet cloth into Smitty’s face.

“Don’t you dare trying to tell me you just did that because it’s your job. I’ll slap you, and I won’t believe you.”

Selena picked up her cloth, dropped it in the water bowl and opened a jar of ointment.

“This’ll help with the bruises, and keep the cut clean.”

Smitty said nothing as Selena gently applied sweet-smelling salve to his chest. He looked at her face, serious, concentrated. She noticed him looking at her, and smiled as if the sun broke through. He couldn’t bear to watch it, looked at her hands instead. Even her hands had freckles on them.

“Sit up,” she said, and picked up a roll of linen. Smitty raised his arms, and looked at the wall as Selena wrapped loops of bandage round his chest, face very close to his.

“Hold, please.”

Smitty put his fingers on the end of the bandage while Selena found one of those small bits of metal and elastic that would keep the bandage tight. She gently ran her fingers over his chest.

“There,” she said. “You look just like a wounded soldier should. Very brave.”

“Thank you Lady Selena,” said Smitty.

“I’ve just patched you up,” said Selena, “So I won’t slap you for that. Is it so hard just to call me Selena? You did in the fight.”

“That was in battle. I wasn’t thinking about it. I apologise.”

“Damn you. Without you, I’d have been burnt to a crisp and then hacked to pieces by an Orc. Without you, I’d be undead now, roaming the Wetlands with bones sticking through my skin. If that’s not a good enough reason for me to love you, then I don’t know what is.”

Smitty’s eyes looked into those of the Lady of the castle. Sister of his commander. Quite possibly his future commander. His eyes showed pain, sadness.

“Selena,” he said. “I can’t. I simply can’t.”

She gave him a long, long look. Then, she gathered up the rest of her bandages, waterbowl, ointment, and without another word, left the room.

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