Tybor the Red stood behind the wheel of his ship, the Invictus, and he studied the layout of the sea with his dark gray eyes. His crew busied themselves with the sails and riggings. The waves were growing larger and larger as the winds picked up. Any landlubber would think that a storm would be too dangerous to sail through, but Tybor had too much salt in his veins. The winds were strong and the clouds thick, but there had yet to be any rain. This display was more for show and nothing else. Turning the wheel, Tybor faced the approaching wave head on and his ship lurched upwards then came crashing back down.
That was much better than the ship dipping downward and taking on water.
Tybor was a tall young man, he looked older thanks to his scraggly beard, and he smiled as salt water hit him in the face. His long red hair was pulled back into a tail and it had a shine to it, even without the sun. Tyborlooked the part of a ship’s captain and he would have it no other way. His boots were polished clean by his cabin boy every night and his red coat looked as new as it had on the day he got it. Hanging from Tybor’s side was a gorgeous sabre with a hilt carved out of ivory and crafted into the head of an orca; an animal that Tybor had always admired. Spinning the wheel Tybor turned the ship to the starboard side and looked out at the ocean.
“Battle is thinnin’,” someonesaid.
Walking up the steps to the wheel was a true monster of a man. He wore leather pants and no boots. His massive arms and torso were naked save for the leather straps studded with iron grommets that stretched across his chest. His ink black skin was decorated with odd scars that twisted and curved with his muscles. They were even on his bald head and cut into his cheeks. The large quartermaster was a frightening sight indeed. Two long handled hatchets, the man’s weapons of choice, hung from his belt and they were as sharp as they looked. He paused and watched his Captain guide the ship. There was a strange glint in his yellow eyes as he took in what lay ahead.
“You sound disappointed, Rashidi,” Tybor said as another wave lifted the Invictus.
“Men are awaitin’ orders, Cap’n,” Rashidi said ignoring the comment. If they could get around the battle without being noticed then the better. A fight was good fromtime-to-time, but this battle was not their fight.
“Just tell them to keep the sails up and be ready to move fast if we have to,” Tybor said.
“On course?” Rashidi asked.
“Aye, I’m not going to let a battle get between me and a fat prize.”
“How much longer?”
“Until what? We are in the clear? Rashidi, my friend, a war is taking place and everywhere we go has the potential of turning into a battle.”
“I no like avoidin’ fights.”
“Well, a fight is what we are trying to avoid.”
Tybor and his crew were heading towards Leland Castle on the southwestern coast to act as an escort for the Princess Myla and her ship. She was busy attending her cousin’s wedding and when the ceremony finished she was to ‘leave’ the castle by ship.
A decoy, of course, because the princess would be leaving by carriage and under escort of several knights. King Brigham was not going to let his only daughter be an easy target.
“You think the money be worth it?” Rashidi asked.
“We’re mercenaries, Rashidi, so the money is always worth it.”
“I prefer pirate.”
“We finish this and we are out of the king’s debt, my friend. We can travel wherever we wish to go. Look out there and tell me what you see.”
Rashidi did just that and he saw only water that went on for asfar as the eye could see.
“Out there is water that has yet to see a ship, my friend, and here we are avoiding a battle to go and play bodyguard,” Tybor said. “I would much rather be out there than here.”
“Yes, it does.”
“After this do we go to Islands?”
The Imperial Islands is what Rashidi referred to and they were a popular stopping point for Tybor and his crew. They spent many a daylounging on the beach, drinking and dancing around large bonfires, spending the night with island women and eating and drinking more and more and more than they would on the ship. It was a wonderful life while on the Islands, but Tybor wanted to go further.
“Nay, Rashidi, I say we go west and see what lies beyond the setting sun.”
“You wanna see the edge, Cap’n?” Rashidi asked with a smile.
Legend stated that far out west, further than any ship has ever gone, the edge of the world stood and it sent water over into the unknown and every ship that had been unfortunate to find it was swept over the edge. It was also rumored that there was no edge, but a great island that came up out of the ocean once every hundred years and it rested on the back of a mighty sea turtle. Inside of the castle was a treasure greater than any that was known to man. Others just said it was more water and nothing else.
“I wouldn’t say noto seeing that.”
“Then we best not die in battle.”
Tybor nodded and looked to his left. The calm scene of the ocean was replaced by chaos. Ships of the royal navy collided with those of the Great Bull’s fleet. The smaller, faster runners that the raiders used to attack and pillage fishing villages were darting around the larger galleons, causing them to chase after them.
“Those galleons are useless against those tiny runners,” Tyborsaid.
“No, Cap’n. Look at them royal ships on the port side,” Rashidi said pointing. Five of the large ships were sailing side-by-side and they advanced into the fight. The runners turned to face-off with the larger ships and Tybor knew what their commanders were thinking; they were thinking they could move between them and crewmembers could jump off and climb the ship. As the runners got close the larger warships moved closer together and smashed into the runners. The cheers of the royal navy could be heard and Tybor could not help but smile at the move.
“Speed works ‘til you get hit, Cap’n,” Rashidi said. “I’ll take this vessel over those.”
A beautiful ship by the standards of many, and greatly admired by ship makers and sailors and anyone in general. The Invictus had a smooth body, built from the sturdiest of northern oak and had been painted the darkest of browns; a normal standard for the ships in the royalnavy, the Invictus was tried and true and battle-tested. Three masts, the tallest in the middle, and the storm cloud gray sails that stuck out from other ships. Tybor did not refer to his beautiful lady as a ship, but as a piece of art.
“She’ll get us to safety,” Tybor said. “She was made in the royal ports you know.”
“I know,” Rashidi said rolling his eyes.
Tybor loved his ship as much as he loved gold. She was his purest prize.The ship had been a gift from King Brigham himself after a great war they had all fought in many years ago.
The royal warships and the tiny runners continued their mad dance on the ocean while Tybor kept his distance.
“Captain! Runner is coming up on our starboard side!” the crow’s nest shouted out.
Tybor saw the ship and he kept the Invictus on her normal course. Arrows zipped through the air and screams from the Norosi warriors filled the air as a loud clap of thunder sounded out. A flash of lightning shot down from the sky and chasing after it was the rain that had been teased for the last half hour.
Some of the crew were firing arrows back at the runner and now the screams of the dying and wounded were starting to replace the battle cries that had earlier been loud and never ending.
“More runners!” the crow’s nest shouted.
“Keep firing on them!” Tybor shouted. “GetStuart!”
Rashidi ran down onto the main deck and shouted out orders. It was not long before a lean-bodied man came running to the wheel. Stuart was the helmsman during the night or whenever Tybor found himself offboard. Unlike other captain’s Tybor preferred to steer his ship.
“If they get close then sink ‘em,” Tybor said removing his fancy coat.
“Aye, Captain, I’ll do it.”
Stuart took the wheel and kept the ship on theoutskirts of the battle. That did not keep them from being noticed by other runners and three of them moved in on the Invictus. Tybor removed his sword and the steel glistened as he gave it an expert twirl before looking over at the approaching ships. Crew members were readying their bows and waiting for their orders.
“Archers! Nock!” Tybor yelled and the archers did as they were ordered.
The runners were fifty yards away and Tybor could see several archers at their stern, maybe four on each, and he realized that they did not have enough to overtake his ship.
“Aim!” Tybor yelled as the runners got closer and the soft groan of bowstrings being pulled back mixed in with the crashing of the waves. Some of the warriors fired their own arrows, but they thudded into the side of the ship. Tybor could see the faces of his enemies and he gave the final command. “Fire!”
The archers unleashed their shafts and theycut through the crew of the first two runners while the third did its best to turn and avoid the close-range combat.
“Set fire to it!” Tybor yelled.
Some of the archers set fire to their arrows, but none of them were able to find their mark.
“Don’t let that one worry you,” Tybor said. “Everyone stay close to your places.”
A horn blast sounded out and Tybor ran to the stern of his ship. Heading directly towards them was oneof the large warships that belonged to the Great Bull’s armada. The large red sails looked like blood-filled storm clouds and the black bull painted in the center leered at them like a demon in search of souls. The ship was not as big as the Invictus, but it was the crew that bothered Tybor more than the size of the ship. Large, double-headed axes, curved pikes and short swords were the primary weapon of choice for the warriors as they shrieked and screamed their war cries. Not the most ideal for combat on a ship, but they just had to be close to put them to use and Tybor had a plan.
“Rashidi! Grab some archers and bring them to me!” Tybor yelled as he ran to the wheel.
Stuart’s face was red and soaked and his hands were white as snow from gripping the wheel so hard.
“I always thought you were light of hand, Stu,” Tybor said with a smile.
“There’s a bit of a difference between riding heavy waves duringa storm and having a war party sailing on you, Captain.”
“I can’t argue with that,” Tybor said turning the ship as hard as he could. Heavy waves came from the ship’s sudden turn and the force of the water caused the warship to rock.
“Orders Cap’n?” Rashidi asked.
“Set fire to their sails. We get them on fire and that’ll bring an end to them.”
“Risky,” Rashidi said.
“Aye, but if they end up onfire then the risk was well worth it.”
The smile on Tybor’s face made Rashidi realize that there was going to be more to the plan and it had best go the way Tybor was calling it. Some of the crew were already climbing up the mast and pulling up the sails. The ship made a noticeable change in speed and Tybor looked over his shoulder to watch the warship getting closer. The shrieks of the war tribe were louder and fiercer.
“Archers ready, Cap’n.”
Rashidi and the two men stood at the very bow of the ship. They watched as the warship got closer and closer. Tybor was waiting for it to run into the Invictus’ bow.
“Cap’n, they’re turnin’!” Rashidi yelled.
Arrows cut through the air and some found their marks. Bright yellow flames burst into life and they started eating away at the ship. Some of the Norosi warriors were screaming out of fear as they tried toput out the flames.
“Pull it in!” With sword in hand Tybor stood at the railing and looked at the burning ship. Grappling hooks were being tossed over and the crew pulled the Norosi vessel closer to them. Once they were side-by-side the crew started to jump onto the enemy vessel.
“All right, lads, show them no mercy! No prisoners!” Tybor shouted as he jumped onto the ship.
As black smoke continued to billow out of the flames, Tybor stood hisground and looked around at the snarling warriors that now surrounded him. The Norosi warriors had painted themselves red and white with a single black line across their eyes and wore thick leather pants and that was it. The Norosi all had a wild look in those yellow eyes of theirs. Oh yes, they were all mad with battle, and Tybor braced himself for the attack.
One of their larger warriors charged forward with his axe raised above his head. A common attack among the axe wielders and Tybor sidestepped him then brought his sword across the man’s stomach. Blood gushed out of the wound and he fell to his knees and Tybor removed the man’s head from his shoulders. The pirates came charging after their Captain and clashed with the warriors. They were not going to fight with any type of strategy. They were going to attack until they killed what they were attacking and Tybor countered it. He ducked under axes and moved out of the way of spear thrusts and someone wielding asword received a kick to the groin and a punch into the face, drawing blood from his nose and mouth before falling down.
The fighting was all around Tybor. His crew were able to move around the Norosi spears and kept their distance from the short swords. Rashidi was a spinning storm of death as his hatchets shined red with blood, cutting through flesh and bone, sending bodies and body parts to the blood-soaked deck.
A heavy bellow sounded out and Tybor looked up atthe ship’s bow and standing there was a large man armed with a warhammer. The warriors moved aside and their ship’s commander descended the stairs and squared off with Tybor.
Tybor spat in the commander’s direction. That was all he needed to say to draw the ire of his opponent. The larger man rushed forward, but it was not an overhead swing of his hammer, but a side swing and Tybor fell to the deck as the hammer whistled past his head. The blood-soaked deck caused Tybor to slip as he got back to his feet and his sword came out of his hand. One of the warriors kicked it aside and went in for the kill, but a well thrown hatchet by Rashidi caught the man between his eyes.
That was the spark that caused the fighting to explode again. Amongst the fighting Tybor stood and looked for his sword. Something heavy hit him in the back and he stumbled forward while the commander stood over him. Tybor’s back throbbed and he was glad that it had not been a hammerblow he had received. The commander brought the hammer down and it crashed into the wooden deck. Tybor kicked the large man in the shin, rolled back and got up on his feet while looking for his sword.
Tybor turned to see Rashidi holding his sword and the quartermaster threw it just in time for Tybor to deflect a blow from the hammer. Tybor went on the attack. His sword a blur as he pushed the commander back Tybor used a downward slash and cut theman’s leg. He yelled out and staggered backwards. Tybor moved in with a lunge, but a backhand swing caught Tybor on the shoulder and he fell back. Some of the nearby warriors intervened, but they were easy for Tybor to deal with. A swift slash and one good thrust sent them both to the deck; dying.
The ship’s commander was back on his feet, but he leaned on his hammer for support. He and Tybor knew that it was only a matter of time before the killing blow came. The commander stood up tall and spat at Tybor. Gripping his hammer, he swung it with all of his might and Tybor ducked underneath and came up with a shoulder tackle, knocking the wind out of his opponent. Moving behind the larger man Tybor brought his sword down and opened a vicious gash across the man’s back. He fell to his knees, blood running down onto the deck of the ship and Tybor drove the sword through the commander’s chest.
The war party members were depleted and the crew cut themdown. Those that were wounded received the mercy of death.
“Everyone back to the Invictus!” Tybor shouted.
The crew members did as they were ordered. The fire was still burning hot, but Tybor did not give much thought to the flames. He looked at the carnage and gore before climbing up the deck of his own ship.
“Cap’n,” Rashidi said. “We keepin’ the ship?”
“On any other day, I would take it with me and sell it fora good amount.”
“We sink it?”
“Burn it and let the ocean have it. We can’t haul it with us.”
“This ship be worth good silver.”
“Always the merchant, Rashidi, that is why I value you above all others,” Tybor said and he gave his friend a wink.
“Ha! You only keep me around cause I am good with coin.”
“Yes, but you are also a damn fine pirate and one of most bloodthirsty killers I have ever seen in battle.”
Rashidi nodded his thanks. “I found these.” He held out several scrolls and loose pieces of parchment. They were all written in Norosi.
“In the main cabin. I grabbed them fast.”
“When you get them translated I want to know what they say.”
“Won’t be long, Cap’n, and…” Rashidi paused as he looked at the papers. His eyes grew big and he showed the large signatureat the bottom. “These were written by Ganos himself.”
Ganos, the Great Bull, had started his war just at the beginning of spring when the last of the ice and snow had melted. His reasons for going against King Brigham were unknown, but Ganos had been ruthless in his attacks. He was the one who displayed the horns of power with pride and without fear. The men that fought for him feared him, but they had surrendered too easily. Tybor began to suspect that there was treacheryafoot.
“Translate them for me and quickly,” Tybor said.
As the Invictus sailed away the heavy crack of the mast breaking could be heard and the crew cheered. Tybor looked over his shoulder and watched as the enemy ship was swallowed by the sea.
All Tybor could think about was the money wasted on having sunk the ship.