Brent was slicing through the waves at some speed, with the wash and foam and spray taking on new life as it swept over the deck. Captain Wade’s crew worked diligently, as he had come to expect, but as the sun finally began to set, and amber light bathed them, he was fearing the worst. Behind them came what they now could tell was a fourth-rate Antyan warship, which meant it had at least forty-six cannons and a crew well-trained in how to use them.
Would they simply blow an unarmed merchant galleon out of the water? Or would they try and convince him to heave to and surrender? Every second spent trying the latter was an extra second closer to possible friendly vessels, so Wade doubted they’d be so generous as to offer that chance.
He looked up at the masts, and the sails, and then to the darkening sky, and wished the Gods would somehow offer him a little favour – such as a sudden and unexpected bolt of lightening to the Antyan masts. No such favour came.
“We won’t make it, will we?” He said quietly to himself. One man however, Lieutenant Harkness, heard him.
“I don’t think so sir. They’re just too fast.”
“Could we take those bastards with us? Ram them?”
Harkness shook his head. “They’ll have an iron reinforced hull and copper plating – we’d damage them but that would be all.”
“Then we keep running, and hope that someone friendly spots us before it’s too late.”
The chase had lasted over an hour by Captain Vipond’s reckoning. At least it was finally drawing to an end. His crew were eager to attack, as they had been for weeks – theirs was a risky move, but for Antya to move out of Eshurg’s shadow, risk had to be taken.
He had to admit to himself that seizing unarmed cargo ships – and especially destroying them – was distasteful. The sailors his vessel now bore down upon were not naval officers, prepared to risk their lives – they were innocent bystanders that were about to become the first casualties of war. Unfortunately, if they raised the alarm, it would place other, more important operations at risk – and he had a duty to protect his nation and prevent that.
The Captain’s Office was small by the standards of the larger ships of the line he had served on, but huge compared to that of his last command. Vipond sat behind a magnificent mahogany desk, sipping the best brandy Antya had to offer from a glass completed by golden swirls. He ran a hand through his short brown hair and scratched the scar on the bridge of his nose (why does it always itch when battle was due?)
Then came the knock at the door.
“Enter.” His voice boomed.
“Captain…” Commander Gagnon, actually an older man than Vipond, and tall enough to have to stoop ever-so-slightly to get through the door, entered. His cutlass caught the light from the newly installed electric lamp and it gleamed where it had been polished. “We are in range.”
“Well then…” Vipond stood. “Let us complete this quickly.”
“They’re getting men into position.” Lieutenant Harkness said quietly. “Getting ready to fire.”
“I say we let them light their cannons then swing hard to port…” Offered up Navigator Grant, a burly man with long ginger sideburns that never seemed see a razor. He stood at the wheel, ready to act upon his idea. “Should see to it we avoid the first volley, at any rate.”
Wade pondered the suggestion. Hard to port would work, but it always leave them dangerously out of the wind’s course. “The enemy will be able to line us up all too easily soon after – we’ll lose valuable momentum.”
“We won’t have any momentum if we’re dead.” Replied Grant, a trace of gallows-humour about him.
Something was coming back to Wade. “What if we swing completely about? They’ll come past us, we smack into the side of them? They won’t be expecting that. We just need to exploit that somehow.”
“We’ll end up entangling our sails and getting stuck. They’ll board us and cut us to pieces.” Responded Grant.
“Not necessarily. We’ll have the element of surprise and if we raise our sails…” Harkness thought for a moment. “We have rifles and swords aboard. I can lead a boarding party and ignite their powder magazines. Brent pushes off and returns to full sail and should get clean away.”
Wade shuddered. “How will you get to the magazine before they kill you?”
Harkness smiled thinly. “I know my way around a cutlass sir…”
“… and it would be a suicide mission! I would have to give the order to push off almost as soon as you and your team are on board that ship.” Wade did not sound happy.
“Sir, if we are destroyed or killed, Antya will blockade Eshurg successfully for at least a few weeks, seizing cargo and coin that will be turned to their own war effort whilst ours suffers. If we can warn Eshurg, we destroy their advantage and could even end this war before it even begins. If I have to give my life to protect the people I love, I’ll do it – but I’ll take those bastards out with me!”
Wade looked away, considering his options. Harkness was right, but Wade would be asking him – and anyone who helped him – to sacrifice their lives. He hadn’t signed up to the merchant navy to make this kind of decision!
He looked back at that young man, unable to keep the sadness from his eyes. “Very well, ask who of the crew will join you. We’ll try and create a distraction too, to help you. Get ready!”