Storm Raven: Chapter Two

The Storm Raven stood no chance against two of those warships. Nereyda’s ship had ten guns on either side, which was pretty respectable as pirate ships went. However, the average frigate had twenty cannons on each side, along with a few deck guns. These ships were heading for them at full sail, with the wind. It wouldn’t take long for them to be upon the Raven.

“To quarters!” she called across the deck as she dashed to the helm.

Nereyda heard confused murmurs as the crew stopped their celebrations at the shout.

“To quarters, I said! Cambisian warships are on our tail, closing with all speed!”

Bottles and cups clattered to the deck, abandoned by their owners as they ran to their stations across the ship. Brynja sprinted up the steps to the aftercastle two at a time to join Nereyda beside the helm.

“Where did they come from, Captain?” asked the first mate.

“I don’t know. I just saw them coming out of the sun. Who knows when they spotted us?” Nereyda saw that all of the crew had reached their stations. “Full sail!” she ordered.

The canvas of the sails snapped as they fell from the yardarms. Nereyda brought the ship around to head east with the wind and away from the pursuing vessels. Her gut lurched with the change in momentum as the sails filled with wind, and the Storm Raven picked up speed.

Even at top speed, she knew that they wouldn’t be able to outrun the frigates. In shallower water near the coast or among islands, Nereyda and the Raven could outmaneuver almost any other ship. Out in the open ocean, however, her ship simply couldn’t match the power of ships built for speed, as Cambisian frigates were. As she looked over her shoulder, she could see the ships behind them gaining by the minute. Off the port bow, to the northeast, flashes of lightning grew ever closer.

Nereyda willed her ship to go faster and pull away, but it refused to listen to her demands. “Bosun, can you get us any more speed?” she called.

“I’ll see if we can coax a bit more wind from these sails,” he answered from his position down on the main deck.

The man barked orders to the crew working the sails. They adjusted the lines and tweaked the angle of the sails. The deck shifted under her feet as the ship pushed a little faster, but with a glance behind her, she saw that it wasn’t nearly enough. Their pursuer had closed to under two miles, inching ever closer. A flash and a boom preceded a splash a few hundred yards aft of the Storm Raven.

The first warning shot. Soon, they’d be within range of the pursuing ships’ deck guns. Even those might be enough to sink the smaller pirate ship. If either of them got close enough to turn and deliver a broadside, the Storm Raven would be shredded in the volley. The only chance Nereyda and her crew had was to outrun or outmaneuver the larger ships. This would normally be impossible in open ocean, but Nereyda had a crazy idea. If those Cambisian bastards wanted a chase, she’d give them one.

She shouted to the crew, “All right, boys and girls, I hope you’re ready to get a little wet.” Wild cheers went around the deck.

As Nereyda turned the wheel to the left, the ship groaned as it turned from its line and began to head toward the storm. The Storm Raven gained a bit of ground on the pursuing enemies, as the larger ships took more time to adjust course. This advantage proved fleeting, however. Another warning shot boomed across the water. Nereyda didn’t look, but she could hear that the splash had landed closer than the last shot.

As her ship tore over the ocean toward the storm, the low rumble of thunder grew in a slow crescendo to match the cannons. The wind grew stronger and wilder. Waves rolled into small hills on the dark waters.

Another shot exploded from behind Nereyda, landing just off the starboard stern of the Storm Raven.

There wasn’t anything she could do about that threat right now. The pirate captain’s focus was solely on the approaching storm. While she had done similar maneuvers before, she always got nervous about taking the risk. They would be one bad order, one wrong change of direction, or one misread wave from disaster. However, she couldn’t let doubt get in the way of her instincts.

The last sliver of sunlight disappeared beneath the horizon behind Nereyda as the Storm Raven passed under the clouds. Rain began to fall on the ship, a light shower at first. The ship rocked forward and back, and jostled port and starboard, as it cut through the waves. In the darkness, she relied on what she could see during the brief flashes of lightning to navigate her ship.

She looked back toward where the other ships should be. A flash of white light illuminated the lead vessel, still determined to catch her pirate prey. Whoever captained this Cambisian ship was apparently either skilled or cocky. Nereyda was betting on the latter.

As the Raven flew deeper into the storm, the rain poured harder, soaking Nereyda’s face and weighing her hair down.

“Brynja, keep an eye on those bastards for me.”

“Aye,” answered the first mate, as she struggled against the rocking deck to take a position at the aft railing.

A shift in the wind brushed Nereyda’s cheek, and she spun the wheel hard to port. The crew adjusted the sails for the turn, and the Raven leaned to starboard as she found her new heading, her sails cracking and mast shaking in the violent tempest.

“Looks like they’re not making the turn to follow us,” said Brynja.

“Fine by me. Maybe they decided it wasn’t worth it to chase us into this.”

Nereyda held her course to pull away from the warships, weaving between and over the waves to avoid being tossed about and capsized. The water surged and fell beneath her as she found her path through the chaos. Her heart raced, and her senses were fully alert as adrenaline coursed through her veins. This is what she lived for.

“How are we looking now, Brynja?” she asked.

“So far so good, except…oh shit.”

“Oh shit, what? That’s not what I want to hear.”

“They’re lining up a broadside at our stern.”

Nereyda risked a look back. Sure enough, each ship had presented its full port side toward the Storm Raven. That’s why they hadn’t turned. With so many guns, only a few would need to strike to cause serious damage. Any hit in this weather would be fatal.

In the flashes of lightning, she searched the sea ahead of her to find an escape in the waves. She found a high crest just off the starboard bow and spun the wheel to make for it.

As the Raven climbed the watery hill, the roar of guns erupted from the warships. Nereyda spun the wheel back to port to fall off of the wave. Dozens of splashes struck the crest of the wave where the Raven had been just moments before.

“We’re in range of their guns, Captain.”

“I can see that!”

“The good news is that one of the ships is turning to escape the storm. The bad news is that the other is turning to pursue now. This guy isn’t giving up anytime soon.”

“Neither am I. Are they heading straight at us?”

“No. They’re angling toward our starboard side. They mean to send us another volley. And they’re gaining on us again.”

“Of course, they are. Why wouldn’t they be?”

In a blink of lightning, Nereyda spotted what could be either their salvation or their doom at the ten o’clock position. It looked like a mountain of water rolling toward them. A rogue wave. While slow, this wall of water could crush a ship that didn’t navigate it the right way, or even one that executed everything perfectly.

“Brace yourselves, lads and lassies, we’re going to climb the mountain.” No cheers this time, as they readied themselves for the punishing wave approaching.

Nereyda angled the ship to port, facing the wave head-on for the best chance to survive. This would also take the Storm Raven directly across the firing line of the Cambisian warship if they kept their course.

“Are they changing course for the wave?” she asked Brynja.

“No, looks like they’re waiting for us to sail into their guns.”

That settled it. The Cambisian captain was cocky rather than skilled. An experienced captain would never risk a rogue wave to set up a shot. While that might doom the warship, it wouldn’t help the Storm Raven if they managed to get a hit on the pirate ship.

Nereyda guided the ship as it hit the bottom of the massive wave and began to ascend. As the Raven’s bow pitched upward, the wind in her sails could barely propel her forward. Now, they just needed to wait for the wave to pass under them.

The Raven became almost vertical, with the crew holding onto railings, lines, and anything else they could reach. As they topped the crest of the wave, the second broadside flashed behind them, striking the wave just beneath their stern. In their fear, the gun crews on the other ship must have rushed their shots. The Raven should have been an easy target.

When Nereyda’s ship pushed over the top of the rogue wave, the bow plunged down. She gripped the helm for balance as momentum drove the forward third of the ship underwater. When the ship bounced back up, water rolled out under the railings. Crew members gasped and coughed for air.

“Hold on!” shouted Nereyda as the Raven glided down the steep backside of the wave. As they hit the trough, the aft rocked back, splashing water up to the aftercastle.

The pirate captain caught her breath as the ship settled down as much as it could, given the storm still roiling around them. She let the feel of the waves and wind guide her hands on the wheel as she sailed away from the wave.

“Are our friends still with us?” Nereyda asked.

“I can’t tell yet, the wave is still in the way.”

As the Raven hit a relatively calm patch of water, Nereyda turned around to watch the wave roll away. As she gazed, a flash of lightning revealed three masts protruding from the top of the wave. A moment later, another flash showed only the underside of the mighty vessel. The wave had struck the broadside of the warship, capsizing it. If it wasn’t for the weather, she would have stopped to help any survivors. Nobody deserved to drown. As it was, any rescue attempt would end with the Storm Raven sinking, as well.

Their pursuers had been eliminated by the sea, but they still had to escape the storm that could destroy them just as easily as it had their enemies. Nereyda turned back to guiding the ship through the weather. She kept the Raven mostly with the wind, but at an angle so that they could exit the storm and sail out of its path. As they sailed, the waves grew smaller and the rain slowed to a drizzle. When they broke out from under the clouds, a silver moon glowed over the sparkling ocean water. Finally, they made it to calm seas, the storm drifting away toward the horizon. Quiet settled over the deck as the thunder faded into the night air.

“Stand down, crew. We made it!” she yelled.

Cheers erupted around the deck. Pride swelled in Nereyda’s heart. This was why they had elected her to replace Captain Nogre after he had died two years ago, despite her being only twenty years old at the time of her election. She always knew how to read the sea and the sky. In calm weather, she somehow never became becalmed or blown off course by a stray gust. And, of course, nobody knew how to pilot a storm like she did.

“All right, everyone, we’ll set a course to move away from the mainland. After that, unless you’re on watch, have fun and get some rest. You’ve earned it.”

By looking at the stars, and guessing how much the chase and storm had taken them from their original course, Nereyda set them on a northeast by east heading. Her first mate confirmed the direction.

“Brynja, I’ll take charge of the first watch, if you want to get some rest.”

“Are you sure? You must be exhausted after steering us through that.”

“Are you kidding?” Nereyda gave Brynja a wild smile.

“If you say so, I won’t turn you down.” Brynja walked down the steps and entered the aftercastle, where their quarters were located.

Nereyeda double checked their course and made sure that they were sailing in a steady direction. Confident, she walked the length of the ship, shaking hands with her crew members or patting them on the back. Between the attack on the cruise vessel and sailing through the storm, they were all exhausted.

The captain reached the bow of the ship and gazed out over the ocean. The moon shimmered over the gentle waves, its reflection a silver road across the surface. Flashes of lightning retreated toward the horizon as the Raven put distance between herself and the storm.

As Nereyda leaned out over the railing, she drew in a deep breath. The scent of the salty ocean water, mixed with air still heavy with the smell of fresh rain, filled her lungs. It was the scent of home. She knew every inch of her, every creak and quirk.

“That was a mighty fine job, captain,” said a rough voice from behind her.

Looking over her right shoulder, she saw the tan, leathery face of her quartermaster. “Do I ever disappoint, Elvar?” she asked with a slight smile.

“Heh, of course not. You’ve always had a knack for storms.”

“Maybe I’m just crazy enough to get us through them.”

“Mayhaps, but I’ve never known someone who took to sailing as fast as you did.”

“Not even Brynja?”

“She’s a sharp one, for certain. And can sail as well as anyone. But she had to work at it more than you did. Ever since we found you as a lass, the sea has been in your bones. You were born to rule the waves, it seems.”

“I don’t think the waves can be ruled by anyone.”

“Something they have in common with you, I think.” His eyes twinkled in the moonlight. “I wonder how much today’s take is.”

Nereyda shrugged. “Hard to say until we can go through it all. When we get to Freyport, we’ll move it into our warehouse, and I’ll get our guy to look at it.”

As the adrenaline from piloting through the storm wore off, Nereyda could feel the day’s work in her body. Her legs and arms ached from the effort of keeping her balance and holding the ship steady through the weather. She rolled her shoulders and worked her legs to get them to loosen up.

“Captain, I’d gladly take your watch, if you want to get some rest. Nobody would begrudge you of that after today.”

“I’m not tired yet, just restless. I might head back and work through some exercises with my cutlass to take the edge off.”

“Go on ahead. Don’t worry about me.”

“Thanks, Elvar.” She patted his arm as she turned away from him.

Before Nereyda could make her way aft, she heard a groaning and cracking sound come from overhead. The port side of the yardarm on the rear mast bent and split. The beam fell with a great splash over the side of the ship, dragging and tearing its sail as it went.

Nereyda swore under her breath. With that kind of damage from the storm, they’d be forced to return to port rather than find new targets to plunder, despite having most of the hold empty and hungry for loot.

“I guess we’re going back to Freyport sooner than we thought.”

She strode across the deck to her first mate’s quarters. The door to Brynja’s cabin slammed against the wall as Nereyda threw it open. As the captain walked into the dark cramped room, she saw her first mate jolt upright on her cot and reach for the sword next to her bed.

“It’s just me, Bryn,” said Nereyda. “Sorry to wake you, but I need you on deck.”

Brynja relaxed and pulled her hand back from her sword, but remained sitting on her bed, her eyes sleepy yet alert. “What is it, Reyda? Is something wrong?”

“The storm damaged one of the yardarms, and it just broke off of the mast. Didn’t you hear it when it fell into the water?”

“No, I must have passed out pretty hard.” Brynja swung her legs out of the bed and stood up, finding clothes from the chest next to her cot. “How bad is it?”

Nereyda sighed with frustration. “It doesn’t look good. We can still sail, but we’ll need to limp back to Freyport for repairs.”

“Damn it. We just left.”

“I know,” said Nereyda, “but we can’t do any more raids until it’s fixed.” She stepped back toward the door to return to the deck.

“This is the price for being reckless, I suppose,” muttered Brynja from behind the captain.

Nereyda spun around. “What do you mean, Bryn?” she asked, fixing her with a stormy look. “Once we saw that Cambisian warship, we didn’t really have a choice except to sail into that storm.”

“I know that,” Brynja shot back as she held up her hands defensively, “and anyone other than you would have gotten us killed while trying to sail through it. I mean that we shouldn’t have been that close to the mainland in the first place.”

“Brynja,” said Nereyda, “we all agreed to pursue that cruise ship together. When we put it to a vote, you voted in favor of it.”

Brynja nodded, then stiffened her posture. “I did, because I didn’t want to openly disagree with you. But from when we talked about it before, you know I thought it was too dangerous.”

“Do you want to tell me that you were right?”

“No, I don’t want you to do that, Reyda,” said Brynja, shaking her head. “As first mate, it’s my job to watch out for the safety of our crew.”

“And you think I don’t care about keeping them safe?”

“That’s not what I’m saying.” Brynja exhaled a deep breath. “I just mean that sometimes you jump into situations without looking beyond what’s immediately ahead. It’s not always a bad thing. A captain needs a certain amount of reckless abandon. But, she also needs a balance of restraint when it’s called for.”

Part of Nereyda knew that Brynja was right, as difficult as it was for her to admit. She had always tended to charge ahead and make things up as she went. While that had worked out until this point, she might not always get so lucky. It would be difficult to keep her instinctive and sometimes impulsive side in check. She knew her confidence was what had endeared her to her crew, and why they had chosen her to be their captain in the first place. Nereyda also knew that Brynja felt a bit jealous about being surpassed, even though the first mate hid her feelings well. Brynja was older and had served on the Storm Raven for years longer than Nereyda had. As captain, she needed to move past any potential hard feelings and attempt to heed the advice of her first mate.

“You’re not wrong. It’s something I need to work on,” said Nereyda. “If you think I’m about to rush into something, don’t be afraid to speak up. I may not always like it, but I need to hear what you have to say. Now, let’s go get things cleaned up so we can get to port and fix our ship.”

To Chapter Three

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