Sunday, December 5, 2010

Þorfinna and the Capture of the Clever Wife

Laird Colyne Stewart
Jan AS XL (2006)

It was a bright winter’s day, when Lady Þorfinna gráfeldr walked down to the piers at the Rouge Port. The wind was blowing strong, but it was not too chill, and the waters of the Mare Ontarium were running clear without ice. She stood on the dock gazing up at the masts of the frigate Red Arrow, from which streamed the banners of Ardchreag and Septentria. An Ealdormere banner flew from the aft-castle.

Today will be the day, she thought.

She stomped up the ramp onto the ship and began bellowing orders. The captain was indisposed, and so as first lieutenant the command was hers. Word had come down that the infamous pirate Cap’n Widow was currently raiding the coasts of north-eastern Skraeling Althing. Most of His Majesty’s ships were on duty elsewhere, tracking another local pirate called Cap’n Bloodfox. So local ships were being asked to capture or sink Widow’s ship the Clever Wife.

Þorfinna was determined that she was the one who would bring Widow to justice.

Finally, the ship was ready to sail, and the winds were blowing favourably in their direction. They swiftly set off, following the coastline.

Before long they saw two ships on the horizon, moving towards them. Marie de Chat Noir—called Black Cat Mary when on board ship—was up in the rigging. She called down that they looked like galleys, and both were flying the Æthelmearc colours. As Æthelmearc and Ealdormere were currently at peace, Þorfinna did not try to evade them, or have her gunner prime the cannons. Instead she had the sails furled as the ships came together, and she and the Æthelmearc captains had a parley.

The senior captain told her that Captain Bloodfox had run afoul of two of His Majesty Ealdormere’s ships—the Iron Duke and the Sea Khan. His ship Interceptor had been sunk, but somehow the pirate captain had escaped the marines aboard the royal ships. He reappeared two days later in an Æthelmearc port along with Mr. Andersen and several new crewmates, and had somehow managed to steal a man-of-war called the Great Wheel. Re-dubbing her Black Trillium, he had shot his way out of the port, sinking two ships, and had disappeared into deep waters. The Æthelmearc admiralty were embarrassed at loosing their ship and were currently out hunting Bloodfox in force. After assuring the captains that she would send word of any sightings of the Black Trillium, Þorfinna and the Red Arrow continued on their way.

The weather continued to be fair, and the ship made good time, traveling past Greenhithe and Bastille du Lac. When the ship neared the shores of Caldrithig, Black Cat Mary called out another sighting. This time she bellowed, “Kraken!”

Being a stout Norsewoman, Þorfinna was not afraid of any creature, may it walk on land, fly through the air or swim in the depths, but several of her crew were now quaking with fear. Mahault, the ship’s master-at-arms, unlocked the pistol cabinets and the crew armed themselves, though many were praying to their various gods.

Calmly, Þorfinna went to her cabin and pulled out a chest from under her bunk. Opening it, she took out a woven belt that had been bestowed upon her by the Galbraiths for being the strongest woman in Ealdormere. The tied this girdle of strength about her waist and climbed onto the deck again.

Ahead of the ship great foaming waves frothed their way towards the prow. Just below the surface of the water, Þorfinna thought she could just make out a gigantic eye. She called for a javelin, and Mahault placed one carved of ash in her hand. Pulling back her arm Þorfinna took careful aim. The crew stood at their posts, holding their breaths, except for Bobo the monkey who screeched from his perch in the rigging. Þorfinna stood still as a statue, until suddenly she threw. The javelin streaked through the air and plunged into the turgid waters. A great bubbling scream exploded from beneath the waves, and the water churned as the kraken thrashed its many tentacles. There was a huge splash, and then the water stilled. The kraken had submerged.

Ordering the ship’s quartermaster to open the rum, Þorfinna allowed the crew a drink to calm their nerves and celebrate their victory over the terror from the deep. Before Mahault could lock away the weapons again, Black Cat Mary once more shouted down from the topcastle. “Ship ahoy! Pirate colours!”

The crew dropped their cups and ran back to their stations. The gunner and his mates primed and manned the cannons. Ahead of them, Þorfinna could see a ship approaching, growing larger and larger. From her mast flew the skull and four crossbones of Cap’n Widow.

There was a splash astern as the Clever Wife’s gunners opened fire prematurely. Þorfinna called for her own gunners to hold. As the ships drew closer together Þorfinna ordered the sails fully unfurled to catch the wind and begin to turn the ship. As the two vessels drew closer together, they each presented their sides.

“Fire!” ordered Þorfinna, as a similar order was given aboard the Clever Wife. Cannons roared, and balls ripped through the hulls, sending exploded shards of timber and bits of crew into the lake. Grapples began to be thrown from the Clever Wife, and the Red Arrow’s marines assembled on deck. Rather than wait to be boarded, the Red Arrow’s crew threw their own grapples, and the two boats were pulled close together. As soon as they were close enough, pirates and marines began climbing, jumping and swinging onto each others ship.

Þorfinna herself, armed with cutlass and pistol, and still wearing her belt, was the first to board the Clever Wife. She fought her way past brigands, privateers, seadogs and other such scum, seeking out the enemy captain. Soon she found her. For Cap’n Widow was herself in the thick of the fighting. She wore a black skirt and green corset, from which the ruffles of her white blouse bloomed. Upon her head perched a brown tri-corner, with black and white feathers, with a red scarf tied under it. In her hands she held a bloody sword, and her parrot flew about her head. Peckerless Pete—who had a steel hook instead of a beak—was himself attacking the Red Arrow’s marines, scratching at eyes and ripping at ears.

The two captains’ eyes locked, and suddenly nothing else existed but them, and the deck between them. They ran at each other, swords swinging. Þorfinna shot her pistol, which tore a hole through Widow’s hat. Their swords met, and they danced over the blood soaked boards, hacking and slashing, parrying and thrusting. Finally, Þorfinna managed to knock the blade from Widow’s hand, and placed the point of her cutlass at the pirate captain’s throat.

The Widow yielded, and her crew, seeing that she was taken, either threw down their own arms, or jumped over board and tried to swim for shore. Most were shot in the back as they swam by the marines.

Locking the pirates in the hold, Þorfinna had her corporal take command of the Red Arrow, while she and some of her crew took control of the Clever Wife. Both ships sailed back into port, where Þorfinna handed her prisoners over to the local constables. Soon the tales of her exploits spread all over Ardchreag and beyond, and many a drink were bought for her in seaside pubs.

Unfortunately, Cap’n Widow did not stay incarcerated for long. Soon enough she and her remaining crew had escaped custody (some say rescued by Peckerless Pete, others by Bloodfox) and was once again sailing the Mare Ontarium aboard her Clever Wife.

But that’s another story.

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