Timbers creaked underneath Stephen’s booted feet. It melded with the sound of lashing rope, shouts, and snapping canvas to create the regular jumble of noise that accompanied a day on the sea. Added to this was the smells and feelings of salt spray and hard-working men hauling on lines, drawing in sheets and spars. The taste of saline was in the air.
Stephen loved it. He loved the work, the nights on a rocking boat, and even the brawls that usually took place, right about . . . now.
“Oy! Hedrick! Wha’ dya think yer doin’?” a man shouted from the other end of the ship. “That’s MY belt ye’ve got there!”
“So what if ‘tis?” Hedrick roared right back from behind Stephen. The burly man shoved past him and moved towards the belt’s owner. “Ye stole it from me, anyhow, you Giridian dog!”
The offender pushed another man aside to stand before Hedrick. “Did not!” And with that, the Giridian lifted a fist and socked Hedrick cleanly in the mouth and snatched the belt. “There’s yer proof!” Hedrick paused, bent over with a hand to his mouth, then suddenly came up with a clenched hand to the Giridian’s stomach.
“And there’s mine,” the bigger man declared, picking the belt up from where the other sailor had dropped it. Just like that, it was over. Stephen was surprised. Usually, these fights lasted far longer. He unobtrusively dropped the halyard in his hand and walked over to the defeated man’s side. “Jon, why do you always start these things?” he asked, smirking as he spoke. Jon was still bent double, gasping for breath. “You’re half the size of some of the men here, and the only thing ye’ve got goin’ for ye is your bellow.”
“Aye, but ‘twas me belt.”
“No it wasn’t.”
“. . . no ‘twasn’t.” Jon picked himself up and turned back to his position at the jib. “I did steal it, though, fair an’ square.” He grinned.
This was daily life aboard the Angel. Of course, being a common merchant ship, it didn’t live up to its name’s standards. The atmosphere was rough, and hygeine wasn’t very important to the men who worked on board it (except to Stephen). It was fast, though, and this is what made it a very good place to be if you were a sailor: people will pay more to have their goods delivered quickly. That meant that Stephen Whyplash got paid more, as well. He enjoyed the feeling of the waves. It was his life.
He’d left home, leaving his father, at about sixteen years of age to enlist in the Giridian Navy, but was considered unfit due to a lack of strength. After that, he wandered from harbour to harbour, finally ending up in Efiel, the country beside Giride. There, he found work aboard a scummy boat called the Crableg. The captain didn’t want him and passed him off to the Angel in a few months. He was eighteen at the time. Now, he had two years of experience, a good friend in Jon, and had overcome his physical shortcomings. Almost. He was still not as heavily built as some of the other men, but had an agile body, good for climbing rigging.
A shout rang from behind Stephen. “Whyplash! Get up here!” The captain waved at him from the helm. The young sailor dashed up the ladder to the rudder. “Shimmy up the boom and see ifn’ ye can spot Opal Harbour!” Captain Quinton ordered, and the words were hardly out of his mouth when Stephen flew towards and up the rigging. Quinton chuckled. “Overeager chap. When ye’re done, go down to the galley fer your dinner!” he added.
Stephen didn’t hear. He was too busy dashing over and around ropes, swinging on lines, and flipping himself over spars. When he reached the topsail, he came to a halt, clinging to the flagstaff. Worry entered his eyes. “Captain!” he yelled. Quinton looked up. The young sailor pointed towards the north. The captain narrowed his eyes.
Aye, he could see Opal Harbour, but it was what was over Opal that had him fretting. Black clouds rushed towards tehm from the bay. The town was a wreck, from what Quinton could see, and it was probably due to the devastating winds heading straight towards them. “Crew! Look to port! Bring her about! Loose the mainsail, ye layabouts!!” he screamed. Every sailor turned to look at the coming storm. Half suddenly froze with fear, and it took Quinton shouting again to snap them out of it.
Quinton desperately spun the rudder wheel as Stephen helped the other men loose the sheets. Almost all at once, the knots fell loose, and the mainsail, with the topsail, blew open with a snapping of canvas. The ship surged forward, away from the storm. The immediate movement caught Stephen off guard and he was thrown off the spar he sat on. “No!” he managed to gasp before slamming into another beam. It knocked the wind out of him.
A rope flew by his head. The agile young sailor snatched at it, the fibers burning his hands as he held on for dear life. The line threw him around the mast with the speed they were moving, and in a single moment, he saw something in the middle of the storm.
A tall figure, wreathed in black rain and lightning. A wicked grin was on its face as it pointed towards the ship, and the clouds tore across the ocean. Then the rope turned, Stephen looked back, and the figure was gone.
The clouds were still coming. Stephen came near to the mast and jumped off onto the rigging. Clutching the nets tightly, he moved downward slowly. The storm flew nearer and nearer. Stephen leaped from ten feet above the deck, not expecting a soft landing. He was right.
And then the storm hit them.
Within seconds of the winds first streaming down the sides of the ship, the mast snapped clean in half. Men shouted, the captain yelled orders, and Stephen struggled to rise from the planks of the deck. He looked up towards Quinton. The storm behind him framed his powerful build, the captain’s hair lashing in all directions as he spun the wheel. Lightning flashed all around. Quinton screamed something, and Stephen strained to hear it. “Caparaben! Take me! Leave the men! You’ve had your damned fun!”
A lightning bolt finally hit their ship in response to those strange words, blocking Stephen’s view of Quinton. Stephen finally pulled himself to his feet and stumbled up to the helm. “Captain!” he cried. Quinton held tightly to the rudder, his smoking body slumped over the rail. “Captain!” Stephen repeated. The young sailor rushed to the dying man’s side. Quinton reached with a trembling hand into his coat and withdrew a silver medallion. Wordless at first, he pressed it into Stephen’s hand.
“Take it . . . Get it to Opal!” he gasped, then slid to the deck. Stephen fell to his side, tears streaming down his face. Quinton had been like his father.
A barrel flew out of the hold and up towards the helm, driven by the winds. Stephen couldn’t see it coming, and it struck him in the side of the head.
The young man blacked out.
A lone fisherman off the coast of the island of Devian reached down to haul in his net. It had been a long night, and a very small catch. He was tired. “Once I’m off this boat, it’s straight to the tavern, and . . .” he started to mutter, then hesitated as he saw something flashing in the water, in his net in fact. “What the . . . by the gods!” he exclaimed, tugging the net in as quickly as he could. It was a body! The flashing object was a medallion around the poor creatures neck.
The old man put an ear to the boy’s chest. Nothing. He checked for a pulse. There was nothing there, either. The fisherman sighed in disappointment. Shame to lose such a young life, he thought.
He bent over to look at the medallion. It was shaped like a leaf. An oak leaf, in fact, the sign of the Savior. He snapped it off the boy’s neck to have a closer look. Setting it down on the boy’s arm, he happened to brush the body’s wrist with his hand.
There was a pulse.
The man gasped. After a moment of horrified thought, he moved the medallion closer to the boy’s wrist. The pulse grew stronger. The man placed it on the wrist. The boy’s other hand moved slightly. “Oh, let him be alive!” the man whispered, and started pumping on Stephen’s chest.
A few more seconds, and Stephen gasped, coughing water. He blinked and sat up. The other man’s eyes widened. “Oh gods!” he exclaimed again. “You’re alive!”
Stephen blinked again. A confused look was on his face. Where was he? All he could remember was a storm, and something about a medallion, and . . . a jewel? “Who are ye? And fer that matter, who am I?” he asked, hesitating.
The man sucked in a breath. “A sailor, aye?” Stephen paused at this. Was he a sailor?
“I . . . don’t know.”
“Well, no matter. Let’s get you back to the harbour, and clean you up. You were dead, after all!”
I love fiction, fantasy, roleplaying, and reading. Nice to meet you too. All of my tales are little kid-friendly, except perhaps a few stories in the Rogue Captain universe. Those are more geared towards teens. Check with your parents, just in case.