The imposing sight of several ships of the line was an unwelcome sight to the merchant galleons that were cutting through the waves at a ferocious rate of knots. The hope had been to make it to Jerry Peak before nightfall, and then sneak away into the night, but the sun had not yet sunk below the churning waves, and in the distance, Captain Francis Woodgate could see the dark red hulls of warships – warships that bore the green and golden-starred flag of Antya.
“Can we avoid them?” He asked his First Mate, Sebastian Rivers.
The taller man rubbed his itchy stubble. He kept finding grey hairs among the black, most displeasing for a man barely into his thirties. His one good, left eye surveyed the scene.
“I doubt it Cap’n. They’re too quick, and they’ll have spotted us for sure.”
Spray swept over the deck as the ship rocked a little, but neither man lost their footing, and neither man minded the cooling spray. Little damp patches were peppering Rivers’ ‘uniform’ (if you could call a dirty white shirt and old black trousers a uniform), but it ignored them.
Woodgate looked grim, his strong jaw set tight and grey eyes looking grim. “We can’t fight them – we have no weapons. Nor can we return to port.”
“Aye, tis a bad place to be in Cap.”
“I’ll be damned if I surrender my ship to those pigs.” Muttered Woodgate, more to himself.
“You’ll get no complaint from me or the crew Cap’n. We’d rather go down fightin’. We have muskets and rifles aboard ship.”
“And hardly anyone aboard knows how to use them properly. We’d be slaughtered. Damn them!”
Woodgate was not a man who compromised. He hadn’t become captain of his own ship by meekly backing down at the first hint of trouble. His unwillingness to tolerate dissent or slack work had sometimes led to dirty looks from his crews, but his willingness to muck in, to put in a shift, and his business acumen, had earned himself respect and his crew extra coin. That they were willing to risk death was unquestioned – but it wasn’t fair of him to ask that. He might not have had a family back home, but a lot of the Furor’s crew of some four-hundred sailors did.
“What if we signal another of our own? Get one ship to break off and head back to the Western Territories? They can get help.” Woodgate was talking to himself. Rivers looked at him.
“Would they get there before one of those bastards ran ’em down?”
“If the rest of us create a distraction they might. Have one of the crew raise the Semaphore. We need to get into formation, and quickly.”
Captain Henry Wade took note of the incoming Semaphore message and silently thanked and cursed Captain Woodgate. He had no desire to be in the clutches of the Antyan Navy, but fleeing for friendly ports with warships possibly bearing down after him wasn’t his idea of a plan.
He watched as the rest of the fleet – some twenty large galleons – began to form a line, spreading out to conceal his own vessel. It would be an unusual formation to the approaching Antyan ships – there was no reason for merchant vessels to sail in such a manner – but there was nothing in the Book that said they couldn’t do it.
His own vessel, the Brent, began to swing around as quickly as possible. The wind was, for the moment, in their favour – they could pick it up and get a boost back to the Territories – whilst any Antyan ships that spotted them would have to get around the rest of the merchant fleet. It was time to run, and run fast.
“There, there!” The lieutenant shouted. The Antyan officer, dressed in impeccable green and gold jacket, held the eyepiece and snarled at the sight of one lone vessel speeding away from the rest of the Eshurg scum. “One of them seeks to return to harbour!”
Captain Gaubert Vipond of the fourth-rate ship of the line Glorieuse moved his brawny frame to the port side of the ship, and took the proffered eyepiece. One quick look was all he needed. The Eshurg merchants were running, to try and warn their forces of the blockade. That could not be permitted.
“Give chase! Full sail!” He barked. Around him, his officers began to repeat his commands, and the crew erupted in a frenzy of organised excitement.
“Ready cannons! As soon as we close to range, open fire!”
Well, so far, so good. Brent was making good speed – though she was a large and heavy ship (especially laden with cargo), she had many sails, proper, large cotton sails that could catch even the slightest breeze. Wade smiled, feeling the spray of the ocean in his long brown hair, and the wind against his weather-worn cheeks. He wished the wind would batter out the lines of age from his appearance, but there was little doing about that.
“Captain Wade…” Behind him, a younger, and probably smarter, man stood to attention. Like his captain, lieutenant Jim Harkness wore a brown jacket and had it buttoned up to the top. Wade quietly envied the short, well-kept hair of blond hair, and the man had a face not yet marred by age or worry. His high cheekbones were something Wade particularly coveted. The deep blue eyes completed the look.
“Yes Lieutenant?” Said Wade as he turned around.
“An Antyan warship is trailing us sir.” Harkness always managed to sound calm.
“I see. Can we reach the Territories before they reach us?
“It will be close sir. The crew is giving it their all but I can’t guarantee it.”
Captain Wade sighed. “Well, we shall just have to hope for a lucky break.”