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Posted on August 15, 2016 at 10:22:58 PM by Aspelta
The tolling of the bell began to cut through the chatter and shouts of the men. As each of them became aware of its chiming, a hush fell across the deck and Tristan looked up from his charts. One of the midshipmen was pushing his way through the crowd on deck and making his way towards them.
“Some sort of problem, Captain?” Tristan asked, turning to his right as the older man strode past. Captain and Midshipman met on the middle step and conversed in an urgent whisper. The men below them went about their tasks, but more quietly than before. Tristan frowned at the lieutenant beside him, but got little more than a shrug in reply.
“I’m going to have to ask you to step into my cabin, Your Highness,” the Captain said when he returned. He leaned against the top rail, his brow knitted with concern.
“What’s going on, Captain?” Tristan replied, making no move to obey. Captain James sighed.
“Pirates, Highness,” he explained, “coming up fast.”
“Show me.” James hesitated.
“I would feel better if you would go below…”
“Are they close enough to do us harm?” Tristan persisted.
“Then show me.” Captain James rolled his shoulders in defeat and grunted for Tristan to follow him. They crossed the deck to the stern and James pointed towards the horizon. He offered Tristan his telescope. The prince declined.
“I can see,” he smiled, shielding his eyes from the sun and following the Captain’s finger. It was a smaller, lighter ship than their own and it flew its Captain’s colours from its masts; a white skull with crossed swords. Tristan squinted at the name written in gold on its side.
“The Black Kraken?” he read, glancing at Captain James, “do you know it?” He could see from James’ face that he did.
“I’m making this an order now, Highness - my cabin, now.”
“Just my luck,” Captain James stormed closing the cabin door behind him. The pirates were gaining on them at an alarming rate and he rounded on his two lieutenants. “Do you know how many pirates I have encountered during my last ten missions?” They didn’t reply.
“No!? No guesses!?” he threw his hands up in exasperation, “none! Zero! Zilch! And then they say, Captain James, would you mind taking the King’s son out on your next voyage? Could you show him the ropes? Teach him about how the navy works? Yes, I said, not thinking my eleventh mission would be much different from the previous ten, but oh no! As soon as I have the heir to the bloody throne wandering around my deck I get tailed by the damn Black Kraken! What are the chances?”
“Urm…” Lieutenant Cross ventured, trying his best to hide a smirk, “about 1 in 11 I’d say, Sir.”
“And how about the chance of you seeing stars when I clout you around the ear?” Cross shut up. James glowered at him until he disappeared down the steps onto the main deck bellowing orders as he went.
They were going to have to make a stand. They could not hope to outrun them. If their positions were reversed and their ship had been the smaller, they could have hoped to lose them in shallower water. The pirates were outgunned but they had every other advantage...and their cargo was not quite so precious.
“Gunners below!” Captain James bellowed. Lieutenant Cross saluted, separating the gunners from the rest of the crew. Lieutenant Brigg remained at the stern, his telescope fixed on the approaching pirate ship.
“It’s well crewed, Sir,” the lad shouted, his mouth down-turned. James removed his hat and wiped the sweat from his brow. His watched the men left on deck glancing at him with anxious eyes. He pulled himself straight and puffed out his chest.
“So are we, Lieutenant” he announced to the crew with all the bluster he could muster, “so are we.”
They fired the first shot. The entire boat rocked as the bang reverberated around the walls of the cabin forcing books from the shelves and pens from the desk. Tristan's chair spun violently to the left forcing him to grab hold of the desk to stop himself from falling out of it onto the floor. Who in their right mind installed a swivel chair on a ship? He supposed he should be grateful it didn’t have wheels like his grandfather’s. He felt a little less thankful when the second cannon fired and a hard backed book slammed into the top of his head.
“Hey!” he shouted loud enough for his voice to carry through the cabin door, “I thought you put me in here to keep me safe. If I’d wanted clobbering around the head with heavy literature I would have stayed at home!” There was no response. Tristan rubbed the top of his head gingerly and leaned back in his ridiculous chair with a sigh. The first exciting thing to happen in two weeks and he was locked in an office even more boring than his father’s.
He was better prepared for the third shot and abandoned the chair completely to avoid being knocked unconscious by a copy of War and Peace. Tristan made a mental note to ask Thoth about it next time he saw him. If it was large, and skull-crackingly heavy Thoth had probably read it. That was of course if he ever got home at all. The pirates returned fire causing the ship to lurch afresh. the sound of splintering wood cracking through the air like a whip lash. Men’s shouts erupted on the deck the other side of the door and were followed by hurried shouting, injured screams and urgent hammering. Once again the answering shot rocked the boat and this time Tristan felt the boom of the canons reverberating through his chest. The unpleasant sensation continued long after the sound was gone .
The wooden planks on the far right side of the room buckled, sending wooden splinters flying in all directions. Tristan threw his arms up to protect his face and dived into the floor. He felt a stabbing pain in his wrist and as soon as he was sure he wasn’t going to be blinded by flying wood, Tristan knelt up and examined his arm. A large splinter protruded through the fabric of his shirt and into the flesh beneath. Cursing under his breath, he took hold of the end between his finger and thumb and removed it with a sharp tug.
“Captain!” he shouted, turning towards the door. He grabbed a handkerchief from one of the draws that had been blow unceremoniously across cabin the floor. Unfurling it, he wrapped it around his bleeding wrist and pulled the knot tight. Tristan approached the hole the cannon ball had made and peered out through the gap. Sitting back on his haunches as the barrage continued he considered his options. Option one: he could phase through the deck to the rooms below, find Celidon and hole up somewhere like the Captain would want him to. Option two: he could phase through the cabin wall and make a nuisance of himself on deck. Celidon would thank him for the former and no one would thank him for the latter, but he hated the idea of hiding. Arthur had done his best to keep him safe, but he also hadn’t raised him to be the kind of person who ran away from things.
In the end he decided to take the best from both plans. Closing his eyes he slipped through the floorboards and dropped onto the bottom of the ship below. It was a longer fall than he had expected but he arrived uninjured at his destination. A broken cannon had been thrown across the lower deck, shattering supports as it went. Water dripped from the ceiling and the ship had begun to creak in a less than comforting display of fragility.
“Cel!” Tristan shouted stepping through the canon. A familiar barking answered as he was jerked to his left by a fresh assault. He managed to phase through one of the joists but slammed into the side of the ship full-force to avoid slipping through the final wall between himself and the ocean. Tristan clutched his arm to his side as he picked his way through the wreckage and followed his familiar’s barking.
The corridor would have been empty if not for a dead sailor sprawled against the side of a cannon. It appeared that all the able bodied had evacuated this corner of the ship. Picking his way through the rubble Tristan found a door and passed through it. He barely had time to take in his new surroundings before something large and green collided with his chest. The ship rocked so violently that even the Cu-Sith was nearly knocked off balance. Worried his dog might break a leg Tristan convinced him to lie on the floor and they crouched together waiting for the world to right itself again.
As soon as the ship was steady they ran back through the door and out into the shattered corridor. The shouts on deck seemed louder as they wound their way past and over the broken canons. Celidon took the lead over the uneven surface, his four legs more effective than Tristan’s two. Another blast of cannon fire echoed around them, followed by a high pitched whistling. Celidon barked in alarm, realising what was happening a second before his faerie. The Cu-Sith threw himself across the gap between them, scrabbling to reach Tristan as the cannon ball burst through the ship wall beside him.
Celidon’s world became a blur of flying wood.
“Tristan!” he woofed, “Tristan!” He couldn’t see a thing, the dust was thicker than fog. The Cu-Sith scrambled his way in the direction of where he had last seen his boy. When the air finally began to clear he spotted him, standing still as stone exactly where he had been before.
“Tris?” Celidon ventured reverting to their psychic link as he lept over another cannon to get to him. The prince didn’t reply. The Cu-Sith could hear his heart pounding and he pushed his muzzle into Tristan’s shaking hand.
“We have to get out of here, Tris,” Cel urged, licking his boy’s fingers.
“It went right th-through me…” Tristan muttered, gesturing at the centre of his chest. He didn’t look down at his familiar, he just kept looking straight ahead, his eyes vacant.
“Put your hand on my collar,” Celidon urged him, “come on Tris, we’ll be fine.”
Celidon guided his boy through the rubble and was relieved when he felt Tristan’s grip on his collar tighten. When they reached the steps back to the deck they paused. The bottom three were unusable, but, if Tristan was recovered enough they, might be able to climb to the fourth.
“I’m okay, Cel,” Tristan said, sensing his familiar’s concern. The Cu-Sith considered him. He still didn’t feel right but they didn’t have much of a choice. Celidon stood guard as Tristan approached the fourth step, took his weight on his arms and heaved himself up onto the wooden platform. His injured shoulder throbbed as he perched himself on the fifth, waiting for Cel to follow.
They ran the rest of the way, bursting out onto the deck as the pirates began boarding. Tristan drew his sword and Celidon put his hackles up. The Cu-Sith lept on the first pirate as soon his feet touched the deck, slamming him to the floor with a snarl. Tristan parried the blow of a second and then, ducking an attack from a third moved to join the defensive line of his father’s sailors. The pirates came on, grinning and leering, gold hanging from their ears and around their necks. He caught the eye of a short man dressed in coloured silks, and with a sinking feeling the prince realised he’d been recognised.
The two sides met in a clash of steel and screams more terrible than canon fire. Tristan downed two pirates; the first with a slash across the chest and the second with a kick to the groin. They were trying to separate him from the rest of the men, closing around him in a semi circle to cut him from the end of the line. He dodged the next attack and managed to disarm his opponent, sending the man’s sword clattering across the deck with a well-timed flick of his wrist. They kept coming, and the circle grew tighter.
A terrible noise exploded around them; half roar, half unearthly scream and everyone on board, sailor and pirate, froze. As the sound died away they remained still exchanging uncertain glances. They were on-edge, and not one of them seemed ready to resume fighting. The silence dragged on, and then the entire ship began to shudder, the fragile boards vibrating.
“Below!” someone cried, “there’s something below!”
“Pull back!” the silk-clad pirate bellowed to his followers, “back to the Kracken, back to the--” He never got chance to finish.
The King’s ship exploded. Tristan felt himself thrown up into the air with so great a force he found it impossible to unfurl his wings. Finally gravity regained its hold on him and pulled him back down to where the deck had been. Only now there was no ship; it had been completely decimated. Tristan hit the water with hard enough that it knocked the air from his lungs. His head swam, black spots appeared and disappeared before his eyes and he sunk further into darker water. The last thing he remembered seeing was the scaled curve of a monstrous body, too large to comprehend…
And then the world went black.
The debris of the two ships floated silently on the surface. One piece of wood lingering in the centre of it all with a one-word warning to all of Shaman picked out in golden paint.
Written by Merlin.
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