Thursday, February 21, 2008

Hellstrom Voyage Chapter 3

Hellstrom Voyage: Chapter 3, Privateers

Captain Hellstrom’s face turned red with anger as he saw not one, but two vessels bearing down on the Constant, almost at point blank range for their cannons. Though she outgunned them individually, they were in a perfect flanking position and in moments would be raking her with fire from both sides.

He shot a murderous glance at Lieutenant Castor, the officer on deck during the meal, the man whose inattention to his duty had most likely killed them all but said nothing other than, “Lieutenant! Your place is below deck commanding the port cannons!” If they lived, there would be time to deal with him later.

“Where is my Windsman!” he shouted again. A small cannonball from a bowchaser flew by his ear, felt more than heard. In truth, he hadn’t yet laid eyes on his new Windsman. Her official title was “Warrant Officer of the Winds” and her gift was to control the weather.

She was personally recommended to him by Miss Medeirra and if she was not everything she was advertised to be, they were certainly dead.

“Miss Theodora, dead calm now, please! Major Broughton, the starboard ship, clear her decks if you will,” As he watched the Major’s sharpshooters forming up into orderly ranks, their uniforms looking pressed, gleaming bright blue in the sun, he was at least glad for one officer he could absolutely count on in this situation.

Hellstrom glanced down with annoyance as Miss Theodora drew some sort of chalk circle on his deck. Not one of those. He hated scribers. She probably learned that nonsense at university.

“Mr. Sawyer, our wind is about to die entirely. When it does, you will turn immediately to starboard. There should be quite a bit of chaos on their decks by then, preventing them from turning with us.”

“Aye, Captain,” the enormous man rolled up his sleeves, his enormous ebony arms seemed to drink in the sunlight as he pulled on his gloves. There was a reason why the helmsman needed to be the biggest, strongest man on the ship. He was another crewmate of long standing. Captain Hellstrom had no doubt that if the ship didn’t turn as ordered, it would be because the rudder, or one of his arms, had broken in an attempt to carry out the maneuver.

The rifles of Major Broughton’s sharpshooters cracked with a satisfying finality. The men manning the bowchaser on the starboard ship as well as several crewman pitched and fell backward, with a single man falling headfirst into the water, ploughed under by his own ship.

The Major turned to his Sergeant and gave the command to fire at will, as the men maintained their two-deep ranks at the bow of the ship, reloading their weapons with accomplished speed. The Major then jumped up into the rigging, climbing up about half way, until the elevation gave him a perfect view of the enemy ship’s deck.

Hanging by one arm and one leg he’d hooked through the rigging, he loaded his rifle. Each swing of the ship put him not over the deck but over the clear ocean, a terrifying sensation of near-flight that caused more men to fall from the rigging than anything else.

Broughton waited calmly, until the movement of the ship brought him up to his highest elevation. He smiled as he saw identified the enemy captain despite the fact that no one was wearing uniforms.

“Take this you right bloody privateer,” he murmured under his breath, spitting out the packet he’d used to pour the gunpowder down the barrel of his rifle, the taste comforting as he brought his rifle up to his shoulder, firing quickly before his view swung from the ship to the ocean. He didn’t need to see the result. The enemy captain was lying dead on the deck with a terrible hole right between his eyes.

Lieutenant Medeirra arrived on deck, her eyes wide as she saw the two ships barreling toward them. They had the wind, they were in perfect position. Things couldn’t be much worse.

“How the hell did they get this close before-”

Captain Hellstrom cut her off, speaking quietly, “We’ll discuss that later. We have only one chance to make it through this. Constant will handle the starboard ship. I need you to handle the ship on the port side.”

Medeirra looked up at him, only a moment’s hesitation clouding her vision before she turned to the side of the ship, dropping her green cloak and belt to the deck. Her sword and pistol had barely clattered to a stop before she was over the side in a perfect swan dive.

Time seemed to stand still on all three ships as she hit the water with barely a splash and began swimming toward the port ship, filling her mind with hatred of the ship, a desire to drive it from the ocean, knowing that thought would be at the front of her mind long enough to take hold, before she was consumed by the primal.

Suddenly she went under and a shadow grew under the water. And grew. When it came back up, a jet of air and water shot high in the air as a leviathan sped toward the ship to port like a cannonball. Men began jumping from the deck of the ship in blind panic as the massive creature slammed into the side of the vessel, the sound of cracking wood deafening.

Suddenly time seemed to kick back into motion as the Windsman muttered, “He just sent her to die. I don’t believe it.”

“Miss Theodora, my wind please. Now!” Evidently the Lieutenant wasn’t the only one he was going to have to speak to after this was over. If they lived.

The girl composed herself quickly, throwing a small clear stone on the deck and muttering words of power in a language that would drive a man insane if he dared to speak it and the wind died, the sails of the privateers going suddenly slack, hanging loosely from the masts.

Without waiting for the order, the Mr. Sawyer threw his massive bulk against the wheel with a roar that would frighten a lion. Three crewmen flew off the side of the Constant as she turned, wood groaning dangerously.

For a terrifying moment it seemed they might hit the port privateer head on but Mr. Sawyer roared again, literally throwing himself against the wheel in a second effort, willing the ship to turn just enough so that they passed within inches of the port side of the vessel, putting her between the Constant and the second privateer so only one of the vessels could fire.

There was now a chance they would live. Suddenly the ship heaved as Constant fired 20 guns directly into the privateer at a range of less than 100 yards. Captain Hellstrom waited for what he knew had to come and he didn’t have to wait long.

Suddenly he was thrown face first onto the deck as she returned fire, the sound of cracking wood was sickening, splinters buried themselves in his cheek and his nose was shattered on the hardwood deck.

He leaped to his feet, ignoring the gush of blood that stained his blue uniform black. He threw himself below deck, arriving on the first gundeck at a run. With a practiced eye he stepped over the bodies of dead and dying crewmen, until he made eye contact with Lieutenant Castor.

“We will be turning hard to port as soon as we pass this ship. Hold your fire until then. Load chains in your cannons. I want to destroy her sails, her rudder if possible,” he noted the speed with which the cannons were being loaded. Castor always had been an excellent gunner, one reason he had been promoted to Second Lieutenant so quickly.

He winced and limped over to his crews, repeating Hellstrom’s order. The Captain noted that a cannon had come free and rolled over his foot. The boot was completely crushed, the leather soaked soft with blood.

“Do you need to see the surgeon now, Mr. Castor?” He asked, watching the crews, feeling the wind begin to pick up again. He had counted on that. Even the most powerful Windsman couldn’t affect a long term change in the wind.

“No sir, Captain, I will see him after the battle,” his face was pale from loss of blood, but it didn’t appear as though he would pass out anytime soon.

The Captain simply nodded and headed back up onto the deck.

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