“Hard to port!” yelled the Captain.
The crew rushed to the left side of the ship as the helmsman cranked the wheel as quickly as he could. The merchant ship Antrozous glided neatly alongside the iceberg, obscuring it momentarily from its pursuers.
“Straighten her out Mark!”
The helmsman did as he was told, and within seconds, the ship was heading straight away from the pirate ships trying desperately to catch them.
“That’s the last obstacle we have on the map Captain! With nothing but open sea ahead of us, they’re going to catch up mighty quick.” Shouted Jim Sievers from the bow, as he pored over his map of the Heron Sea.
“We might want to consider making for land and running for it.” Mark said quietly from the tiller.
“We’d never make it in time. And besides, I’m not leaving this ship to pirates. They’ll only use it to attack other merchants.” Captain Margaret Donner said. “If anything…” She glanced around at her crew, “we’ll scuttle her, keep her from being used by those bastards.” She was glad to see most of the men and women around her nod resignedly. Stepping quickly to the side of the quarterdeck she checked on the progress of their opponents. She slammed her palm into the side rail at what she saw.
“They’ve put out oars!” She shouted out to the rest of the ship.
In a heavy wind, Antrozous would have had no trouble outrunning the pirate vessel, a small sloop with only two main sails. But in light wind, the marauder’s were choosing to abandon wind power and row to close the gap between the two ships. With far more crew than her own, the Captain had no doubt that they hard more than enough manpower to surpass her ships speed, even with her larger, better sails.
“We don’t have enough time to scuttle her on some rocks.” She realized. “Listen up! Break out the arms! We’re going to hold them off while Mark, James and I put holes in the hold below the waterline.”
The crew didn’t hesitate, and she thanked them silently for it. The sails were abandoned, and everywhere men and women ran to collect their weaponry and ready the ship for boarding.
Grabbing a thick iron spike usually used for staking, she headed to the bowsprit one last time to say a proper goodbye to her ship.
“I’m sorry.” Was all she murmured as she stroked the forward rail. It was all she could say. She looked up, and sighed heavily.
“There’s another ship coming in! No markings!” She shouted over her shoulder to her comrades. No markings meant it was most likely another pirate. She turned and headed for the hatch to the innards of the ship. She would have even less time to damage the ship before she and her crew were killed…
“Captain! Look!” Shouted Mark.
The other ship came gliding alongside, an elegant dark green flag now flying from her foremast.
“They must have a mage on board to stop that quickly!” She gasped, as the ship smoothly came to all stop just to starboard. Several of the crew aboard the other ship waved to her crew and began unsheathing their weapons. But as the pirate ship closed on her port side, the crew of this new ship hoisted gangplanks and rushed across her deck, past her bewildered crew, to face the oncoming pirates.
A teal-scaled goblin wearing a uniform of some kind approached her as the pirates threw grappling hooks and began to close the distance between their ship and hers.
“Afternoon. I’m Ghast, Captain of the Artinathan patrol ship Valiant. We’ll be dealing with ruffians. Hope we didn’t give you a scare, but we wanted to make sure we didn’t scare them off. I’d much rather take them here, rather than chase them across the ocean.
Captain Donner nodded quietly as the goblin, barely up to her shoulders, tipped his hat and sprinted across the deck to join his crew.
The pirates, now committed to the fight, came across not on gangplanks, but by rope, swinging out to land amongst the Artinathan crew. Initially, they broke up the ranks of the defenders, and for a few minutes, the fighting was fierce and close. But with a few shouts in a language the Captain didn’t understand, she saw the uniformed creatures; goblins, humans, elves, and countless others, draw back and form a battle line on the deck. The pirates charged, the weight of their superior numbers surely enough to break the line, she thought. But not only did it hold, the onrushing thugs were swallowed up by the soldiers, cut down smoothly as they clashed. In mere seconds, the pirates had started to break away in twos and threes, and the Artinathan soldiers kept behind them, grabbing the ropes used by the pirates and swinging across to take their ship.
It was over in a few minutes. The small group of uniformed troops was far better trained than the pirates, and had little trouble securing the marauder ship. Donner and her crew watched from the side rail, astonished.
Ghast returned, swinging out on a line and landing in front of the Captain.
“We’ll be departing now, Captain. I hope you have a safe journey.” He tipped his hat again and started to head off.
“Wait! How…” She shook her head, still reeling. “I’d heard about the Artinathan Empire, but I didn’t realize you had a navy. How many ships do you have?”
“We’re the first ma’am.” Ghast said with a smile. “But we’ll be regularly patrolling the coast from now on. Should you have any trouble, just head for land, and we’ll find you.”
“How will you find us? The coast is hundreds of miles and you’re just one ship!” Mark asked, stepping forward.
“Our ship’s mage is on constant watch for ships in distress. He can sense other vessels, even from miles away. He’ll know.” He turned to leave again.
“Captain. If your Empire needs transport from a merchant ship, this one will be at your disposal. Our home port is Sallowton. Just ask.” Captain Donner said, nodding gratefully to the goblin.
The Artinathan Captain nodded appreciatively.
“We’ll keep that in mind, Captain. Good day.”
“Now what did you go and do that for? We’ll be giving them free rides forever now.” Mark sighed as soon as the other two ships had begun to move away.
“It’s because of them that we have a ship at all. And they’re the first government ship I’ve ever seen to protect a merchant and not take anything for it.” Donner watched the first of Artinath’s navy sail away, and she smiled hopefully. “I think we’re going to see a lot of good come out of those people.”