The Amberwitch

This short story is an entry into the Dangers on the High Seas Lore Contest.

The Amberwitch

He awoke slowly, his brain first registering the smooth sway of the ship, peacefully rocking port to starboard. The soft creaking of his ship was a comfort, like a warm cottage and a fine lass rolled up into one. “Anchored” his groggy mind deduced. He loved the sway of the sea, never sleeping as soundly whilst on land. He could hear the distant call of a gull as he opened his eyes, wait, were his eyes open? Panicked, he cried out. “I can’t see, why can’t I see?” It was then that the pain from his face registered in his conscious, “swollen shut,” he quickly understood. Gods be damned it hurt; as did his wrists shackled above his head. He tried to pull himself upright and the pain in his side caused him to pass out once again.

He dreamt of a large squid pulling him off deck and into the depths, its tentacle painfully crushing him around the middle. As he was pulled down, deeper and deeper, he could see the hull of his ship disappearing in the distance. He was awakened by a bucket of seawater thrown in his face. He could tell it was daytime but nothing more. By the voices he could tell there was a pair of them, Pirates. His ship “The Amberwitch” had been boarded in the dead of night while anchored offshore of the Arbor. He didn’t know how many days ago that was, three? A week? Two? Below deck it was difficult to track the stars, near impossible through that port hole towards the bow. His eyes were clearing up as he hadn’t been beaten in three nights. Prior to that, at the end of everyday “Big Ugly” (as Sandor called him) came below to extract information on the King’s Fleet.

What is your assignment, who is your commander, where did the fleet sail? Always the same questions, always the same answer. “Fuck a goat.” Then the beatings, it hurt worse as it went on but Sandor learned that if he grimaced when they hit his left side they didn’t hit the right where the ribs were broken. He didn’t fake the grimace to avoid the pain, well maybe a little because of the pain, but more to avoid a splinter of rib puncturing something important inside him. He had to stay alive long enough to be rescued. “Big Ugly” was a Brudvir monster, a seven foot tall behemoth of a man. Hairy as an otterbear, with a nose that looked bent and broken. Apparently he was a bit self-conscious of it as Sandor’s jibes about it were met with ferocious blows to his own nose. Sandor’s defiance during the beatings only ended once he was knocked unconscious.

He had been fast asleep when the attack occurred, his mind had screamed “The Bell!” and he awoke to the ringing of the main bell. The ringing stopped as he was putting on his sword belt. Who was on watch? Smitherton, he thought…he is killed. Protocol required the night watch to continue ringing the bell until ordered to stop by a commanding officer. Sandor emerged from his cabin simultaneously with his First Mate, Henry Johns, into complete mayhem. Immediately they were attacked from two sides by men without armor or markings of any kind, they dispatched their foes quickly. At first it was hard to tell the crew apart from the Brigands, most were out of uniform having been woke by the bell. There was no attacking vessel that he could see, meaning they must have come aboard from skiffs out of that pissant little wharf at Gulls Rest.

They were still coming aboard in a steady stream, upwards to a hundred men. “Dispatch the ladders!” he yelled and Henry Johns followed suit barking orders as they fought their way forward. These were Pirates by Gods and organized, fighting in groups of four against one or two crewmen. Sandor’s crew was the better trained but four on one or two is not a fight that usually ends well. Sandor saw Big Bob Nakkari kill three men with one swing of that big hammer of his, only to fall to the blades of three others. “We are losing her” came into his mind as he fought harder. Killing all before him and with Henry at his back, his swordsmanship was leagues above this rabble; he blocked, parried, and killed with ease. His cutlass was fine steel, honed sharp as a razor. He cut off arms and slashed throats with every swing. By his count he killed twenty by mid-deck and dispatched one of the boarding ladders. The cutlass wasn’t just a slashing weapon, Xeilian blades had a pointed tip that curved upward and when stabbed into the gut could be driven right up to the heart. He and Henry were a formidable pair when fighting together and drew the attention of a good many Pirates. From the corner of his eye he saw a Hrothi, no…a Kypiq? Kypiq rarely fight in open battle, but here he came at them from the side. The small man drove his blade into the side of Henry Johns before Sandor could turn to face him. Just as he began his swing he saw the man’s face, not the face of a Kypiq with those solid black eyes, but a Neran. A Neran child of no more than 10 winters! Sandor was so shocked at the sight that his swing stopped mid stride. With that slight pause, he was clubbed in the head and the world went black.

Today’s torture was different, they unshackled him and he fell to the floor. Unable to move his arms, unable to twist his torso, he lay there in soiled hay cussing and insulting them as they beat and kicked him. When they tired, they propped him against the wall so he din’ choke on his own blood. One of them dropped a bowl of hash and a bottle of water and they locked the brig. “This is my fucking brig you filthy pigs” he called after them. He started to try to flex his hands to get the blood flowing there again. At first there was nothing, no movement at all, then a sharp feeling of pin-pricks building to a feeling like his arms were on fire. He continued to work his hands through the pain. Eventually he was able to lift the bottle with two hands, pull the cork with his teeth (now missing two) and drink it dry. He was hungry but that brown slop smelled like puke and wasn’t going inside his mouth; instead he rested against the wall-slowly opening and closing his hands until he slept. “The commodore will come for me; I just have to stay alive” was his last thought as he drifted off to sleep.

A boot kicked him awake on his bare foot. He awoke with a start to a small table and chairs inside the cell. A man of medium build, clean shaven, with a mane of long jet black hair was seated opposite him. He was dressed well but not nobly. A Black leather hat with a white plume sat atop his head. A dirty Pirate threw a shirt at Sandor, he pulled it over his head noticing that it was freshly cleaned … in lilac? “Please sit.” The man requested.

“Who the fuck are you supposed to be then eh?” Sandor saw that the man was armed and planned on taking the weapon from him and driving it up his ass.

“My name is Cyrano Redwyne; my uncle is count of The Arbor. You are trespassing in our waters, how do you plead?” Sandor remained defiantly silent, in his view this was just another Pirate, a clean Pirate, but a Pirate nonetheless. The man studied him for a moment and raised a hand, a minion approached with a plate and two cups. The plate had upon it seasoned trison with taters and vegetables. The minion was nervous, and clean. This was a servant, not a Pirate with a key to the cell Sandor figured. The servant poured red wine into the cups and hurried out of the cell and back to the bow. Cyrano Redwyne leaned forward and placed a pointless knife and a spoon upon the table. Flipping his cape aside he touched the handle of the fine steel rapier strapped about his waist. “Let us drink and eat in peace and there will be no need for me to end you this day… Captain Sandor.” Sandor’s eyes locked with the man’s when he heard his name. “My cabin, they got the name from my journals and maps. They have nothing on the fleet,” this was his thought as he began to spoon taters into his gullet. By gods he was hungry! Cyrano watched and drank wine, never again speaking. When Sandor’s plate and cup were empty Cyrano waived the servants over; they collected the dinnerware and table and left quickly. Smiling, Cyrano touched the brim of his hat and nodded his exit. The cell door was slammed shut. Sandor muttered to himself. “The King will come for me and you will suffer Lord Redwyne.”

Cyrano Redwyne was a fine looking man of 30 winters. A fish merchant by trade, his Uncle William Redwyne had sent him to the coast to “commandeer a ship.” His uncle’s rebels had just retaken the Capital City of Donau from the Forces of the Deranged King. After the battle, William Redwyne was proclaimed count by its people. His uncle now had his sights on the fleet that had rained hellfire upon The Arbor. The ensuing blockade cutting off it’s once bustling merchant trade. Cyrano’s own fishing fleet had been confined to the bay at Gulls Rest by the blockade, ruining his business and cutting off an important food supply to the county. Cyrano now had the ship, and a grand Galleon she was. Made of timber from the swampland of the Dras, she had a reddish glow about her, hence her name “The Amberwitch.” She had four masts and two trebuchets on the main deck, the second level was the brig and galley, the third level down housed the crew of forty and below that was the storage. She was a fine ship she was and Cyrano couldn’t sail her. He was Captain of a small fleet of single mast fishing boats not a Battle hardened Naval Captain. During the initial blockade the Naval force of the Arbor had been destroyed, and with it all the best seamen in the land. Now, Cyrano and his crew of motley marines was all the Arbor had. They were a ragtag bunch of rogues all having been something else before the Xeilian invasion. A blacksmith, a farmer, a father, a fisherman…now all brigands, Pirates if you will. There was no denying it, they boarded a vessel, killed its crew and took it for themselves, Pirates. The thought made Cyrano sick but at the same time proud. Proud they were fighting back, proud they retook Donau and have driven the Xeilian forces back. They had gotten this far, the ship was theirs; now he just needed to get the Deranged King of Xeilias out of Sandor’s mind.

For the next three weeks Sandor was given a bowl of slop and a bottle of water a day. On the seventh day Cyrano reappeared with the meat and greens and wine. “My name is Cyrano Redwyne; my uncle is count of The Arbor. You are trespassing in our waters, how do you plead?” Again, Sandor never spoke and neither did his unusual visitor. When his cup was empty, the table was removed and Cyrano vanished for another week. On the third week, he was given a basin and a bar of soap prior to the Pirate Lord’s visit. Sandor was defiant and didn’t touch them. “Let him smell me then!” Sandor thought, but when Cyrano entered with a bonnie lass holding the wine jug Sandor was embarrassed. He didn’t look up the entire visit, eating and drinking in silence. When they had gone Sandor went to the basin and looked into the water. The reflection he saw there was not his own, hair caked with dirt and blood, a scraggly red beard had grown across his face, also caked with blood. His eyes had a sunken look as did his cheeks “I look like a hermit, marooned” he said aloud and picked up the bar of soap.

It was a long week without food waiting for the return of Cyrano; often he could hear the man’s fine boots walking above deck. When he did he secretly hoped he would hear those boot heels on the stairs, on their way to the cell with some real food. On the seventh day Cyrano appeared again with the lass. Sandor knew this ploy; he would not give in to some Pirate whore and tell what he knew of his fleet. “My name is Cyrano Redwyne; my uncle is count of The Arbor. You are trespassing in our waters, how do you plead?” Sandor said nothing but this time Cyrano did. “This here be Ida Meranda, if ye not speak to me mayhaps you will to her. I warn ye though, put a hand on her and I’ll cut it off m’self.” With that said Cyrano walked out and up the stairs. The cell door was open, he could take the girl prisoner with the dull knife and force his way above deck and dive into the sea. That wouldn’t work, firstly because he would never abandon his post, secondly the Pirate Lord surely didn’t value the life of this whore or he’d have never left her here. He began to eat, slowly this time and with manners, he was after all, the only real gentleman aboard the ship.

“S-s-s-so you used to be t-t-the captain of this boat?” The girl was scared to death. She wasn’t a child, she looked to be nearly 25 winters. She was very pretty with fine pale skin and chestnut hair tied back in a ribbon. She was dressed well but not nobly, much like the fancy Pirate. The biggest difference between the two was that she was conservatively dressed, unlike the Pirate with the Plumed Hat and cape. Her dress went all the way to the floor and was of a pale green with brown embroidery about the seams. Her ribbon was the same green and tied her hair up just behind the ears. By Gods she was a lovely sight. She is no Pirate whore, a whore wouldn’t be this afraid nor dressed like that. She was the one who wouldn’t look up this time, staring at his plate instead of his freshly washed face.

“Missy, I AM the Captain. Captain Alistair Sandor, and this SHIP is the Amberwitch, one of the finest in the King’s fleet.” As soon as he spoke the word “King” she looked him dead in the eye and spat on the ground.

“That’s for yer King, the most cruel, disgusting pile of donkey shit on Elyria!” she began to weep openly, Sandor was shocked, didn’t know how to respond. No one speaks of the King in that manner! He should have her head! Yet here she sat wiping the tears from her eyes, looking at Sandor not with hate but grief on a level he will never know. “When the Deranged King invaded The Arbor he hung my whole family as traitors in the market square, my ma and Pa, and little sisters, they was just four!” She cried aloud again, unashamed of her grief “Then the guards raped me, over and over and over again right there in the street. I woke in a basement hospital two weeks later, two weeks! That is your KING that is your precious EMPIRE!” She leapt up out of her seat and ran up the stairs crying. Sandor sat there in awe and could hear Cyrano saying some soft comforting words to the girl. Eventually he made his way back down the stairs; leaving the table and chairs he reached over and took the knife and spoon before slowly closing the cell door and walking away in silence. Sandor drank the wine right from the jug and sat there for a long, long time.

His thoughts traveled to the Siege of Donau. Situated on the mouth of the largest river in the land Donau was a jewel of a city. Lush with greenery, the huge stone walls were a sight to behold from the sea. Before the bombing began, that is. They rose a quarter league into the sky seemingly cut from the cliffs themselves. The battlements atop were adorned with flowering vines, not only as accoutrement but were functional as well, providing camouflage for the weapons and men hidden behind the battlements. The harbor was situated on the northern shore of the river, upstream and protected on both sides by huge towers of the same white stone. The Xeilian fleet had sent in a quarter of its force to lure the Arbor battleships out of the safety of the harbor. Half the fleet took a wide birth around to the north to flank them while the remaining quarter came from the south. Completely surrounded, the Trebuchets made quick work of them. Fire-bombs were launched in succession and with precision, tearing huge holes in the sides of the Arbor’s battleships. Once afire, their crews were split trying to extinguish the flames before they spread to the sails and rendered the ship immobile. A few broke through the line and came about firing on the unprotected side of the fleet. The Amberwitch took out one of these rogue ships and caught the attention of the Commodore. Sandor’s crewman in the crow’s nest had called out the bearings of an attacking vessel coming about during the bombardment of the Arbor fleet. Sandor spun about with his spyglass already to his eye. Lowering the spyglass and looking up he saw the direction of the wind-flag. He was immediately aware that they were about to torch the next missile. “HOLD!” He screamed above the battle noise, “Ready on Deck! Hold Fast! Drop Anchor!” The crew did as they were told and The “Witch” (as she was called by her crew) nosed into the water hard. She cried and squealed in pain as her hull twisted and lurched, the wind swinging the stern around fast. Everything that was not nailed down shifted about the deck, including a few of the newer hands. The Witch bobbed once, twice, and leveled off. “IGNITE! Down 10 degrees; Aft 20 degrees! FIRE!” The pendulum swung, the missile launched and was high, crossing the Arbor ship’s bow. The Arbor battleship had slowed and was firing on the fleet, smart move as even though an attempt may be off it still had a chance to damage a nearby Xeilian ship. “Down 10 degrees, FIRE!” This shot too was high but caught the mizzen and burst. Fire and debris rained down on the target igniting the sails and rendering them dead in the water. The next two shots were easy pickings and it sunk shortly after. That was the most danger they were faced with in the battle. The entire Arbor fleet was sunk within four hours. The Amberwitch was accredited with taking down two herself. It was what happened over the next year that Sandor didn’t understand.

Orders came across for the Amberwitch to sail upriver and destroy everything made by man. Farms mostly, a few mills and five towns fell beneath her. She was not alone as four other ships were sent with her. They devastated the countryside with fire-bombs while the remaining force bombarded the city. A Thousand died during the siege. Donau’s walls were so high and so strong they seemed like they were made of white Iron. T’was nearly a year before their defenses were broken and Xeilian forces invaded the city. Under his command, Sandor’s men were among those sent in to capture the survivors and corral them in the main square. Ida Miranda did not lie, nor exaggerate their fate. Another two thousand were hung in the week following the invasion. A mock trial was held for groups of fifty citizens, all accused of treason. Treason for what exactly? Treason to a King that t’was not their ruler, treason for fighting off an invasion, treason for surviving the attack?

Old, young, men, women, all were hung the same. Why. Why was he told to kill unarmed innocents? Burn their villages and destroy their lives? To what end was this for? He prayed for the Commodore to rescue him so he could be briefed on the larger picture.

By the time Cyrano arrived on the seventh day of the fourth week, Sandor was weak from malnutrition and looking forward to his visitor. Cyrano came to the cell alone, didn’t unlock the cell and spoke through the bars. “My name is Cyrano Redwyne; my uncle is count of The Arbor. You are trespassing in our waters, how do you plead?” Sandor was taken aback but said nothing, his stomach however spoke aloud. Cyrano made no move to enter the cell this day and instead turned to leave. Sandor understood the ploy but couldn’t help himself.

“NOT Guilty” He spat. “These waters, this ship and its crew are the property of the Empire and of the KING!” His voice grew louder and more defiant as he spoke.

“No man is another man’s property in the Arbor sir.” Cyrano turned and left. Sandor collapsed, and wept. He wept for his dead crew and the ship he lost, wept for the children hanged at Donau, wept because he was so damn hungry. When they brought him the hash the following day he ate it, vomiting twice, keeping none of it down. He drank the water and wept some more.

Late that evening Ida Miranda returned, alone. She sat down on the other side of the bars cross-legged. Reaching beneath her shawl she drew a hunk of bread and a sausage. These she placed upon the ground outside the cell, afraid to reach beyond its boundary. As if doing so would condemn her to the same fate as the thin man inside. “Please eat, you cannot starve sir, your redemption is at hand.” She said this softly as to not draw the attention of the night guard patrolling the deck. Sandor was too hungry to hear her words and quickly retrieved the meal. The bread was fresh as was the sausage, delicious! He did not speak as his mouth was full but when she rose to leave he had to. With cheeks full he managed one word. “Please.” She sat back down with a nod and waited for him to finish.

“Thank you M’lady, you are very kind.” His eyes welled but he did not weep. “I am sorry for what happened to your family, it…it t’was a crime.” He turned quickly as to not let her see him. She understood that it was difficult for such a man to show remorse. She rose to leave, “Thank you Alistair.”

The following day Sandor felt stronger and used the basin to clean himself as much as a gentleman could, going as far as to rinse his head with his day’s drinking water. He could tell that his ribs were nearly healed and stretched his torso, exercising it best he could. About mid-day his mind played back his visit from Ida, hearing her words this time. “Your redemption is at hand.” She had said. For the number of men Sandor had killed in battle, he was sure redemption would never come to him. Just like rescue, it was a fool’s dream.

Ida Miranda returned again that evening with bread and a hunk of cheese. Sandor was overjoyed to see her. They spoke for a long time about his home in Xeilias and growing up in the jungle. He told her of how he was cast out of his village for being unmarked, and how he joined the King’s Navy as a deck-boy at 13. Mostly he talked about the sea, its calmness and its rage, its wondrous creatures, and its dangers. She sat enthralled by his stories, eventually succumbing to his enquiries about her. She did not want to talk about her childhood as her wounds were still fresh in her mind. She instead told him of the Arbor, its beauty and its people. Her people too loved the sea, whalers and fishermen, merchants and mercenaries all docked at Donau. She told him of the wine makers and of how she crushed grapes by dancing in a vat with her sisters. He saw a tear roll down her cheek as she smiled at the memory. “Ours was the finest in the land” she bragged. “Even the Duke himself bought wine from the Arbor.” There they sat talking, cross-legged on the floor one on either side of the bars as if they weren’t there. For that moment, Sandor forgot he was a half-starved prisoner. They both abruptly stopped talking and looked at the ceiling when they heard the boot steps of the Pirate lord.

Cyrano came down the stairs with a lantern in one hand and his drawn rapier in the other. He pointed it at the woman, when she moved to stand he spoke. ”Don’t move traitor, I see you have been feeding the prisoner from our pantry, our people starve and die in the streets because of his ilk. And you come to show him what? Kindness? Mercy? He has slaughtered hundreds of our Kin and you feed him like a pet?” She began to defend her actions and Cyrano quickly closed the distance between them putting the tip of the rapier to her throat. “Don’t speak.”

Sandor pleaded with the man. “Lord Redwyne, please don’t, if you must punish someone, punish me.”

“Punish her? The price for treason is DEATH!” Emphasizing the last word, Cyrano Redwyne drew back his sword to drive it through her. Sandor screamed, “NO!” and reached through the bars to try to stop it. Cyrano paused and looked the man in the eyes. A tear rolled down Sandor’s face into his beard. “She is kind, I am evil, kill me instead.” Cyrano lowered his sword and whistled twice in quick succession. The hurried boot steps of the guards could be heard above rushing to his call. When they appeared at the bottom of the stairs Cyrano directed them to escort the lady off ship. “Take’er to shore, she has completed her task.” Ida Miranda turned to face Sandor one last time, raising a hand as if to say goodbye. The guards took her by the elbows and gently turned her towards the stairs, Sandor would never see her again.

“So you wish to take her place do you?” Cyrano still had the sword out, it’s tip in the floor. He looked like a man with a fancy silver cane. “You see sir, she is no traitor. She did what I had hoped she would do, even after all that she has been through, all that she has lost, she is still the kindest soul I’ve known. I brought her here to help you find your humanity sir, judging by your reaction tonight, I think you may have done just that.” Cyrano sheathed his sword, tipped his cap and went top-side. Sandor sat down in the hay and gave the man’s words a good long think.

The following morning Cyrano reappeared. Unlike previous visits, Cyrano was unattended and had the key himself. He unlocked the cell and spoke. “Let’s go top-side.” He stepped to the side to allow Sandor to pass by. Sandor hesitated, looking first at the man and then at the cell door. “It is a FINE day.” Cyrano touted. Sandor stepped out of the cell and soon was squinting against the sun with the smell of the sea washing over him. He approached the rail, closed his eyes, and felt the breeze blow through the rough tangle of red hair that had grown from his face and head. This is what he has truly missed, not the food or the wine or even the woman, it was the sea. His imprisonment wasn’t about keeping him from his duty, it had kept him from tasting the salt on his lips and the spray of the ocean upon his face. He took a deep breath and opened his eyes, Cyrano had been watching him with a grin. The fancy Pirate tossed him a plump red apple and nodded. Sandor bit deep into the flesh, oh what a joy! It must have been the most delicious thing on Elyria! How could he have never appreciated an apple before? It was a wonderful revelation, appreciation, allowing him to see the joy in being on deck, smelling the sea, hearing the gulls, being ALIVE.

“Sail for me and never spend another day locked in the chains of the Empire. Sail for me, and be free to call this vessel your own. Sail for me and help us all to be free as well.”

Sandor took a moment to look out across the sea; a pod of wooly whale surfaced, breaking the smooth waters and with a splash of their wooly tails dove down into the depths, going wherever they chose to go. Free to explore the icy waters of the North or the warmer waters of the Archipelago. Truly living a life at sea, singing their songs for nearly 300 years. Three hundred years at sea, the thought was pure joy for Sandor, after a long while he spoke, “I shall” he said.

Cyrano Redwyne removed his Black Leather Plumed Hat and handed it to Sandor. He looked out across the calm blue sea and then up at the squawking gulls circling in the clear blue sky.

“It is a FINE day...Captain.”

2/17/2018 8:46:16 PM #1

Extremely well done! Great pacing. Enjoyed every part of it.

2/18/2018 10:11:21 PM #2

Thank you very much!

2/20/2018 10:05:11 PM #3

Very well done. Believable background, characters, setting and the so well done story. I hope you will grace us with more writing in the future.

Governor of Fararo, In service to Duchess Hela and Duke Nimb Zephyr of The Anemoi and their TRM King Evelake Rhyne and Queen Lagertha Rhyne of Vornair. Join the Dance of Destiny because 'Winter is Coming.' Friend code: 3F53D0

2/28/2018 11:16:01 PM #4

Your story was extremely enjoyable and I hope that you decide to actually continue this storyline in the future!

3/1/2018 12:41:11 AM #5

Well written!

3/1/2018 1:43:49 AM #6

Really great writing! I'm for sure impressed. This contest is not easy!

3/10/2018 9:46:38 PM #7

Great tale! Thoroughly enjoyed it. Congratulations on placing in the contest, you earned it!

3/11/2018 5:01:55 AM #8

This is very well written