Storm Raven: Chapter One

The scent of treasure floated in the ocean air as it breezed through Nereyda’s black hair. She gazed across the water at the largest cruise ship she had ever seen, which would be carrying some of the wealthiest lords and merchants from the Empire. She didn’t see any armed passengers aside from the personal bodyguards that were along for the ride. Just as importantly, no cannons were visible. The ship didn’t even have any gun ports. Easy prey.

Pirates never dared strike so close to the mainland. The high level of naval activity, along with a large number of ports from which reinforcements could sail, made it dangerous. However, Nereyda felt confident that they could slip in and hit one ship before escaping into the open ocean.

“Send them a warning,” she said to Brynja, her first mate.

“Aye, aye,” Brynja said as she relayed the order.

It wasn’t even really necessary since there was no way that the huge ship could flee or outmaneuver the Storm Raven. Still, they should at least give their target a chance to surrender.

The shot splashed just aft of the cruise ship. A minute later, they had furled their sails and run up a white flag. As they drifted, the Storm Raven pulled alongside them. Nereyda’s crew tossed hooks to link the two vessels. Due to the height of the cruise ship, they extended ladders across the gap.

Nereyda mounted one of the ladders and climbed to the deck of the Luxura, followed by the rest of the boarding party. As she vaulted the railing at top of the ladder, she looked around the deck. The passengers remained seated at tables strewn about the area, apparently enjoying their afternoon tea. All of them wore terrified expressions. All except for one bodyguard who walked toward her, drawing his sword.

“How dare you interrupt our journey!” he asked, pointing his blade Nereyda. “Get back on your ship and leave at once.”

“Or what?” said Nereyda.

“I’ll run you through myself,” he threatened.

Nereyda smiled, her amethyst eyes twinkling as she looked at him. “Go ahead,” she said as she drew her own cutlass.

The bodyguard stepped forward with a thrust toward her stomach.

With a swipe of her blade, she knocked his sword to the side. Nereyda stepped forward and struck him in the gut with the pommel of her weapon.

As the guard bent over to clutch his belly, Nereyda knocked the sword out of his hand and kicked it up to her free hand. She pointed both blades at him and said, “Are you finished? Go back to your seat and shake it off.”

“You’re not going to kill me?”

“Is there a reason I should? Sit down like I said, and you’ll get through this just fine.” Nereyda handed the guard’s sword to one of her crew members and turned back to the travelers. “Anybody else feel like fighting?” Nobody stood up. “Now that we’re done with that, surrender any gold, jewelry, or other valuables you have, and we’ll let you keep going on your nice little journey. My friends here have some convenient bags. Just toss your things into them as they come around.”

Her crew scattered about the deck, holding up their canvas sacks as the wealthy passengers surrendered their possessions. As the crew worked on collecting these treasures, Nereyda spotted a table with an open seat where some fluffy-looking merchant or lord or whatever sat with his wife and a young man who appeared to be their son.

“Is this seat taken?” she asked. They just stared at her as she plopped down into the available chair.

“Is now, I guess.” Nereyda reached across the table for the teapot and an empty cup. After she had poured herself some tea, she pushed aside the tea pot, leaned back in her chair, then lifted her legs to rest her boots on the table, dripping muck onto the tablecloth.

“Having a nice trip so far?” she asked in a bright voice, looking around the table.

They gave her no answer other than looking away from her, avoiding eye contact.

“Come now, what happened to all of those manners you rich people spend a fortune to teach your kids? I asked you a question.”

Still no answer from the couple, but the young man leaned forward. “Why should we treat you with any sort of manners?”

“I’m a guest at your table, aren’t I?” Nereyda flashed a smile. “We don’t have to let this be unpleasant.”

The boy’s eyes narrowed as he scowled at her. “You call robbing our ship pleasant?”

“That depends on how you look at it,” she said. “I may be taking some of your things, but you should look on the bright side. You get to leave with your clothes on. I’m not taking your food. And, best of all, you get to sail away from here, alive. I’d say that’s a pretty good deal.”

“You talk like letting us live is some kind of favor. I’ve seen what your kind of people do, falling on ships and villages alike, taking what you please and killing whoever gets in your way.”

“You actually missed the part about how we snatch children away in the night to eat them.” She winked at the young man. “Wouldn’t want our reputation to suffer. But really, we’re just making a living like everyone else. May I ask how you earn your place on a ship like this?”

“Lesser people pay us nobles for the privilege of working our land, and we provide them with protection.”

“And what if they stop paying?” Nereyda asked.

He rolled his eyes. “Then we run them off our land and take what they owe us, of course.”

“So they’re paying you for protection from…you? At least we’re honest about being criminals.”

“You mock us, wench!” The young man jumped to his feet, knocking aside his chair and sending it clattering to the deck. He drew a sword from his hip and pointed it at Nereyda. “I will not let you leave this ship.”

The pirate captain chuckled. “Tsk, tsk, tsk. You brought a sword to tea? That’s not very gentlemanly. A pity those etiquette lessons didn’t stick.”

“Who are you to talk of etiquette? You sit at our table with your weapons, drink our tea, and laugh at us. Do you even know who my father is?” He glanced over at the older noble at the table. “He’s High Judge Aydin of the Imperial Court.”

Nereyda shrugged. “I’m a pirate. I do what I want. And I don’t particularly care who your dad is.”

“Stand and face me, coward.”

She sighed and rolled her eyes as she lazily eased her feet from the top of the table. With the young man’s blade following her, she pushed herself to her feet and looked into his eyes with her purple gaze, but did not draw her own weapon. “Do you know how to use that thing?”

He drew himself up straight and puffed out his chest. “I’ve had lessons since I was a child. I know what I’m doing.”

“Oh, I’m sure you know how to swing it around with all the right moves. Maybe you even know where to stick it. But have you had to use it for real?” She took a step toward him and held his gaze with her own. “Have you ever had to kill a man?” she asked. “Have you ever been one wrong move from losing your own life, or one right one from taking someone else’s?”

His eyes flicked away for a moment. He swallowed, but did not respond.

Another step. “Have you ever looked into a man’s eyes as the life flickered out from them, just after you spilled his blood and guts from his belly?”

The blood drained from his face, leaving him pale, and he shifted uncomfortably on his feet, as if he wanted to retreat but held his ground out of pride. His grip loosened slightly and the sword dipped lower.

A third step, and the tip of his blade pressed against the leather armor over her sternum, resting between her breasts. “Now is your chance. You can get your first taste of blood right here, right now. I’d be honored to be your first,” she said as she stroked the length of his sword with her fingertips. “All it takes is one little thrust, or a big one depending on the sword, and you can bring me to my knees. What do you say, boy? I hope you don’t disappoint me.”

The young man dropped his sword arm to his side and slouched his shoulders.

“Don’t worry. Even the best sometimes have trouble keeping it up.”

He looked down at the deck, refusing to make eye contact. “Just take what you want and get out of here.”

“I think my crew is just about done anyway. You’ve been a great date. Thanks for the tea!” Nereyda strutted past him and patted him on the shoulder. She looked around and saw that her crew was indeed almost finished collecting the passengers’ valuables.

Nereyda ordered her crew to set about hauling their seized goods from the cruise ship to the hold of the Storm Raven. When all of it had been loaded, the crew of the Raven hauled in the boarding lines and cast off from the cruise ship.

Nereyda joined her crew as they celebrated on deck. “We’ve had a fine take today. You’ve all earned some rest. Eat, drink, make merry, sleep, or sleep with someone. We’ll let the Storm Raven drift tonight, then set off once again in the morning. Cheers to you!” she raised a bottle of rum.

“Cheers to the captain!” sang Brynja.

“To the captain!” echoed the crew, as they all drank.

Nereyda sat down with Brynja, along with two other members of the crew, Kyla and Jim.

Kyla passed Nereyda a drink. “Where are we off to next, Captain?”

“Not sure yet. We’ll probably find a nice fat merchant ship and see what we can take.”

“Hope we have a bit more of a fight next time,” said Kyla. “Nothing too tough, just something to get the blood pumping.”

“I can think of something else to get your blood pumping,” said Jim.

Kyla brushed a strand of red hair behind her ear. “Maybe I’ll take you up on that.”

Nereyda finished her drink and stood up. “You two enjoy yourselves.”

“The best order you’ve given all day,” said Kyla with a smile.

Nereyda then turned away and walked aft. As she ascended the aftercastle, she sensed some of the crew gazing after her. She knew that her slender, fit physique drew attention from most of the men, and even some of the women, in her crew. However, she would never complicate things by having a relationship with anyone serving on her ship.

As she reached the aft railing, she rested her elbows on the wood and leaned out to gaze across the sea. To her left, the fiery sun crawled toward the horizon, the clouds touched with a purple hue. A flash in the sky in the distance to her right caught her eye. The wind blew toward the storm, so Nereyda didn’t worry about it taking them by surprise. Even if it did hit, she knew she could pilot the Storm Raven through it.

Nereyda smiled to herself as she reflected on the raid on the cruise ship. The day’s risk had been worth it. All of the goods they had seized would be worth a fortune when they returned to Freyport after a few more weeks of finding ships to plunder to fill the hold of the Storm Raven. Stealing a sip of tea with that pompous noble had been the most entertainment she had gotten on any raid that she could remember.

Looking back at the setting sun, she noticed a shadow that she hadn’t seen before. Blinking and raising her hand to shield her eyes from the sun, she saw the unmistakable silhouettes of two ships. As they came further into focus, a chill went over her. Against the sun, Nereyda could not make out the flags of the vessels, but the shapes were unmistakable.

Frigates from the Cambisian Empire.

To Chapter Two

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