Nipping At Their Heels Written by Harry 'Madjack' McKenzie, copyright 2007; posted with full permissions.
ONE: Terras, 20 Trivor, 1339 Avard
Captain Seamus Stonehelm stood patiently to one side of the Great Hall as Duke Therinol Navaillo's court discussed things. For the most part, none of it concerned him or his ship directly, so he was content to stand silently as issues ranging from the state of the city's defenses to the price of mead were discussed. He was glad he hadn't brought his cousin Angus with him; Angus would have got them both tossed out with his impatience, likely due to the hot tempered Dwarf starting a brawl if he got tired of waiting.
His only companion at this meeting was Lady Cleo, and he was reasonably sure that, unless someone cast some sort of a ‘detect invisible’ spell, no one realized she was even here. She had simply vanished in the outer hall before Seamus entered. He looked down at the floor and allowed a small smile to grace his Elven features and just as quickly, replaced it with a mask of indifference before looking back up. Though he was fairly new to the ways of the court and nobility, he had always been a fast learner.
Finally, Duke Navaillo spoke to him, breaking his silent musings, “And as for Captain Stonehelm, well…I have a letter of instruction for him from Rial Mhenace. And instructions from the King to provide him with whatever supplies and materials he needs in order to carry out his instructions.” The Duke, also and Elf, passed a letter to a page, who promptly trotted over to Seamus and handed it to him with a slight flourish.
“Thank you milord.” Seamus replied to the Duke as he carefully unsealed the letter, “Allow me a moment to read this, and I shall have a better idea of what Mister Mhenace wishes for me to do.” He opened the letter and quickly read through it. It was not too much of a shock that his boss wanted him to do something, it was actually quite pleasing that what he wanted Seamus to do was something Seamus himself had been itching to do since the invasion had begun, strike back.
“It would seem that Mister Mhenace, wishes me to scout the south coast for signs of Nabrollian naval activity.” Seamus informed the Duke, “And deal with any enemy naval forces as I see fit.”
“Excellent! It's about time someone started doing something to hit back…we've been too long on the defensive as it is.” The Duke replied. “Whatever supplies or materials you find yourself in need of, give a list to Count Stonegrudge; he will see that you get them.” The Duke pointed to an older Dwarf seated at the table.
“As you wish, milord.” Seamus said. He bowed to the Duke and left the Great Hall and its court, his mind already sorting through what he needed to conduct this mission, and what route he would take.
“Well… it really doesn't take much more than the promise of bloodshed to get you into a good mood, does it?” Cleo asked from beside him.
He turned his head and gave her an irritated glance, “Not funny, Cleo.” He grumped.
“Well… you're just no fun at all today.” She decided aloud as she fell in step with him, “You stand in that boring meeting forever, and when they finally remember to give you that message, you bolt with a smile on your face, I point it out and you get grumpy on me…”
“No one forced you to come with me.” He pointed out as they continued to thread their way through the crowded streets.
“If I don't keep an eye on you, Angus would send the Minotaur… and you did say you want subtlety when you attend court.” She replied with a negligent wave of the hand.
“I do NOT require a baby-sitter.” he grumbled.
“No… just someone to make sure your back is covered.” She said in a serious tone, “In case you've missed it, you're starting to get a reputation as a successful pirate hunter. And pirates don't like them much… if some bright pirate decides to have you killed while you're away from the ship… do I really need to finish painting this portrait?”
“No… no you don't.” he sighed unhappily, “It's good that someone realized that… even if I didn't. It's just… I never set out to be a pirate hunter… or a ship's captain… it just sort of happened… I'm still trying to figure it out as I go.”
“I know… but sometimes it just seems like you don't have any joy in your heart.” She said sadly, “I miss that. You always were the most fun loving one of us… well, besides me, anyway.”
“It's still there.” Seamus replied as he took her small hand in his own, “It's just on hold due to the war.”
“Funny.” She said, “You should have a fine future as a comic minstrel once the war ends.”
“I did earn my dinner that way more than once.” he replied lightly. She laughed and followed him up the gangplank of the Rattler, still holding his hand.
Later, aboard the Rattler…
“So now that the Kur Maens have changed sides, we need to see if we can disrupt the Nabrolians supply lines in this general area.” Seamus explained to his gathered officers.
“Sounds like fun.” Angus said from where he sat.
“Are we sure they will even have supply ships running through that area?” Xavian de Lance asked.
“Not a hundred percent, no.” Seamus replied, “But they are operating here…” He pointed to an area on a map of Rakore that he had spread out on the table, “With no overland supply routes… and the shortest distance by sea from Nabrol passes through this area, so I think we should see some supply vessels, or even a warship or two.”
“Aye… makes sense.” Tor rumbled in agreement.
“Good… we sail with the morning tide.” Seamus announced cheerfully, “Vladimir? Be sure someone wakes me at dawn.”
“Aye, Captain.” Vladimir replied smartly.
“If there are no further questions then?” Seamus asked. No one had any and the meeting broke up, each of the officers heading off to prepare whatever he felt was needed before sailing tomorrow. Finally, no one was left in the cabin, save Cleo and Seamus.
He didn't speak as he removed his boots and unbuckled his sword belt. She opened a cupboard and retrieved a wine bottle and two silver cups. She poured the wine as he hung his sword belt on a hook next to the bed. He padded over next to her and accepted the offered cup, taking a seat at the small table. She sat as well, and the two of them sipped their wine in companionable silence for a time.
Finally, she spoke, “This will be different, won't it?”
“Yes… this time we're going out with the intent of capturing or sinking other ships.” Seamus replied, “It's a slightly more aggressive mindset than we've used up until now.”
“Are we ready for this?” She asked hesitantly.
“I think so.” He replied. He took a long sip of his wine, before continuing, “It's the first step in making these assholes pay for invading our nation. A small step… but at least it's not defending or retreating.”
“You don't like to back down.” She stated with a small smirk, “Headstrong… you get that from your family… I hope they're alright.” She reached across and took his hand.
He gave her a sad smile as he squeezed her hand gently, “I'm sure they are… and if they aren't… well… then there's an awful lot of dead Ogarians in those tunnels… no Dwarf could ask for a better end than to go down fighting.” He took a breath in, allowing the tears he didn't dare let anyone else see, flow down his cheeks, “But by the Lady, I'm so afraid for them.”
She moved across to him, her body seeming to flow from her chair into his lap, her small hands wrapping around him and hugging him with a strength that never failed to surprise him, “I know you are… you are such a good man, Seamus… you worry over your family, but you still take care of your crew… and you even manage to keep me out of trouble… mostly… No wonder I decided to love you.”
“I lucked out there, didn't I?” He half-laughed and he wiped the moisture from his face.
“Well… it was a toss up between you and Jena… but since she doesn't go for girls, I had to settle for you.” She replied with a sly grin.
“I dunno if I should be honored or annoyed by that.” He said as he raised an eyebrow.
“Honored, Elf-boy… I don't just love anyone.” She said with a hint of annoyance.
“Well then… honored it is.” He replied. He then stood without warning, lifting her along with him, twisted clear of the chair and turned so they faced the bed. Without further comment, he tossed her onto it. She gave a yelp of surprise and he jumped onto the bed with her.
TWO: 27 Trivor, 1329 Avard
Seamus sat in his chair and stared out across the water, not really seeing what he was looking at, lost in thought as he was. He shifted slightly and adjusted the sling on his left arm. The battle two days prior had left many aboard the Rattler wounded. It had also cost them a dozen dead. He had thought them lucky to get away as cheaply as they had. The Rattler had barely proved to be a match for the single Nabrolian trireme they had encountered off the mouth of the Panthera River.
Only the enchantments laid upon her had kept them from falling victim to boulders tossed by the two giants on board. The giants weren't as accurate when throwing at a fast moving target. Still, one boulder had struck, killing several men and demolishing a large area of the main deck and destroying two catapults. Only the swift assault by almost the entire crew once they grappled and boarded stopped the carnage from being worse. The single Nabrolian Cleric perched atop one of the giants had accounted for most of the wounded; the bastard had flung curses nonstop.
Cleo had finished him. She had gutted him from behind; he died never knowing she was there. The giants had gone down hard, Tor finally having found something his charge couldn't break. The grim minotaur had grinned as Seamus worked to heal him, making a comment about having finally found a worthy challenge on this world. Cassandra had smacked him on the head for it.
Angus had himself a grand time, ripping into the Nabrolians with glee, actually laughing as he cut them down. Xavian had used his spells to good effect, magic missiling archers from their perches in the rigging. Hrothgar and Bjarned had aided Tor in bringing down the giants, though both were battered and bruised in the process. Maui had taken an arrow to the chest when he stepped in between Seamus and the Nabrolian Captain. Of all his officers, only Cleo had been unhurt. All the rest had minor wounds of some sort.
He rubbed a hand over his chin and sighed as he turned to gaze aft. The Nabrolian ship was connected to his own by a large, strong towrope. It's far greater mass slowed the Rattler to a crawl, even with all her enchantments active, they were moving at a snail pace. What would normally be a two day run at normal speed, was looking like a four day trip if he was lucky. But the information he had gathered from the freed slaves and the few Nabrolians captured was vital.
He shivered as his thoughts turned to the Nabrolians. Those men were dyed-in-the-wool, fanatic freaks, as far as he could tell. Even after being defeated and captured, they defiantly spoke of what fine sacrifices to their God his crew would make. He was VERY tempted to simply throw them over the side and be done with them. He had no real desire to begin killing for such trivial reasons, so for the moment, it was merely a temptation.
As for the freed slaves who had provided muscle to work the oars… They were in good health, physically; mentally, most were basket cases. Some of them had been chained to those oars for years. They were rarely beaten, and never starved, but the hopelessness of their situation would wear them away. Always there was the knowledge that if they became too infirm or ill to row, they would be unchained and sacrificed on the blood stained altar on the main deck.
He returned his attention to the Rattler; her main deck was badly damaged on the port side. That boulder had broken planks and timbers with ease. If the giants had been accurate enough to aim at the waterline, the Rattler would be sitting on the bottom of the sea. As it was, he was pretty sure that he was looking at several weeks of repair work. And it wouldn't be cheap either.
Seamus was not a rich man, but he was slowly starting to become well-off. The proceeds from the sale of two prize ships and cargo were seeing to that, and though technically Seamus did not own the Rattler, he still felt responsible for her upkeep and repair. He wondered if he would get a good sum of prize money for the Nabrolian vessel. He was fairly sure that the Rakoran navy didn't have any like it. If nothing else, Firestorm was going to want to at least look it over to see if there were any design features that might be usable on other vessels. Worst case would be they broke it up for the timber.
His musings were interrupted by Angus. His cousin came up and began to speak with out any preamble, as was his way. “The last of the lads have been healed up, Cousin. The only injuries left untreated are your arm and Cleo's head.”
“What happened to Cleo?” Seamus asked with a frown of puzzlement. “I thought she made it through that fight without a scratch.”
“Well, since she's still with you, most of us figure she must take regular knocks to the head,” Angus replied lightly, “Otherwise, we're fairly sure she'd wise up and move on.”
For a moment, Seamus was speechless, “Why you flea-bitten, mangy, son of a bastard orc.” He growled at his cousin, “I ought to just tell her you said that.”
“Why? She admits that there must be something wrong with her, herself.” The Dwarf replied with a smirk.
“I really can't wait for you to find a mate.” Seamus muttered darkly as he got up from his chair, “The paybacks will be soooo worth waiting for.”
“Like as not, no sane woman will want me… so yer probably right.” Angus agreed happily. Seamus raised an eyebrow at his cheerful acceptance of his possible fate. He snorted in mock disgust and led the way into the stern castle. The two made their way to Maui's cabin and knocked.
A rumbled reply of “Enter,” came from within and the two let themselves in. Maui was sitting on a cushion on the floor, reading from a tome of some sort, “Good morning Captain.” He said as he laid the book aside.
“Good morning Maui.” Seamus greeted him in return, “The rest of the crew has been cared for, and since I've used up my healing prayers for today, I was wondering if you wouldn't mind seeing to my arm.”
“It would be my pleasure.” Maui said as he stood and led his Captain to a nearby chair. After he seated Seamus, he pulled out his holy symbol of Olorin and began to chant. As he chanted, he placed his left hand, the one not holding the Holy symbol, on Seamus' shoulder. A bluish glow began to form on the symbol, it began to extend outwards from the symbol in a sphere that engulfed the two of them. As Maui continued to chant, the glow increased in intensity until it became almost too bright for Angus to look at.
Finally, with a sound like waves crashing on a shore, the glow vanished and Seamus stood up. He removed the sling and unwrapped a bloody bandage from his upper arm. He flexed and rotated the arm to test it and gave a satisfied smile. “Thank you Maui.” he said simply.
Maui merely waved him off. The prayers had tired the big Sholin; he didn't really agree with his Captain's refusal to be treated until everyone else had been, but he understood it. It was part of why his crew was so loyal, Seamus put their welfare ahead of his own, and did so in a very public manner sometimes. Seamus stood up and led Angus back out to the quarterdeck, tossing the sling and bandage over the rail.
“By the Lady, it's good to be out here.” He breathed in contentment. Nothing soothed the odd Elf more than a sea breeze and a rolling deck underfoot. He often wondered where he got his nautical inclinations, as being raised Dwarven certainly hadn't planted them.
“It's not the hearth… but it'll do.” Angus agreed.
Seamus laughed and sat down in his chair, “Tell me cousin, what do you make of the Nabrolians and their efforts?”
Angus noted the sudden serious tone and paused in thought before he replied, “I think they're all as daft as bedbugs… invading and conquering just to get sacrifices for a blood God… insanity… that's what it is.”
“Aye… but insanity with a purpose.” Seamus noted, “They'll tie down resources that should be off dealing with the Ogre scum. And they're fanatics… worse than the Ogres… at least the Ogres will negotiate if they start to lose… I think these bastards will fight to the last… and there's too curst many of them here.”
“We'll be needing a better way to fight their ships.” Angus pointed out, “We got lucky with this one… most ships don't have our enchantments… or our sort of boarding party.”
“Agreed… those bloody giants tossing boulders make it a dicey game to take them on.” Seamus shook his head, “Still can't believe Tor tried to charge those beasts.”
“If he were a bit bigger it would have worked.” Angus decided aloud.
“But he isn't gonna get any bigger.” Seamus pointed out, “And those two weren't even full grown yet.”
“Aye… it does make him charging them an bad idea.” Angus allowed, “But they sure weren't expecting it, were they?”
Seamus laughed, “No, Cousin… they certainly were not expecting that.” Angus grinned back and the two of them began tossing ideas between them as to how best to take down the next Trireme they took on. And neither of them doubted that they would be taking another on sometime in the future.
THREE: Hallis Island, Cal 3, 1329 Avard
“My ship is going tae be in repair dock for HOW long?” Seamus asked the poor unfortunate Giddeon Enterprise clerk.
“At least a month Captain Stonehelm… and that's after you get her to Terras.” The poor fellow gulped in reply. “The shipyards here in Gridolyn are simply overwhelmed at the moment.”
“Blast!” Seamus muttered, then gave the clerk an apologetic look, “Not yer fault lad… I shouldn't take out my annoyance on ye…”
“I understand your frustration Captain, no harm done.” The man said, cutting off Seamus mid-apology. “But if you want to get the Rattler back into fighting trim, I suggest you get her to Terras as quickly as you can.”
“Aye, I'll do that… and thanks lad.” Seamus replied. He turned and left the GE office, making his way up the street to Lord Henrick's small keep. He might as well brief Prat on what he had found out thus far. And make sure that the prisoners he had brought to Hallis found their way to the mines.
He made his way inside the keep, retracing his way into the great hall, and finding his liege lord inside his office. After clearing his entry with Prat's seneschal, he tapped his ring on the door, waited for the gruff “Enter,” from inside, and stepped inside, gently closing the door behind him.
“Seamus… this is a bit of a surprise… I thought you were at Lok Magus.” Prat said as he stood from behind his desk. The big man furrowed his eyebrows, “Did you already make your way to the Halls of the Pixie Queen then?”
“I'm afraid not.” Seamus replied glumly, “Your mage was a no show, and while I was waiting for him to show up, Mistress Brin put me to work… after that, Rial ordered me to scout the areas where the Nabrolians had landed.”
“I see.” Prat said. He realized that in the chaos of the invasion, he had neglected to inform anyone else that Seamus was working on one of Prat's projects.
“The Nabrolians are still there.” Seamus said with a frown, he moved over to the wall where a map of Rakore was tacked up. “I encountered on of their triremes about here.” He said indicating a spot with his finger, “Captured it after a bit of bother… got some prisoners for you… and some information… They're fanatics… but they love tae brag… seems they've broken up most of their fleet for wood to build shelter, I reckon about three quarters of their original fleet is gone. The ones that are left aren't pushovers though… those damned Priests and giants working in tandem are formidable.
“It looks like they're concentrating on their land campaign, leaving what few ships they haven't broke up to fend for themselves.” Seamus continued, “They seem to be patrolling off the mouth of the Panthera River, and off Stormalin Keep… didn't see much activity anywhere else. The Rattler was damaged, and I'll be running her back to Terras for repairs.”
“How bad was the damage?” Prat asked with a frown.
“We got off light considering that we got hit by a damned boulder.” Seamus replied with a sigh of regret, “It tore up a chunk of the main deck, and crushed a catapult… killed two men outright.”
“Alright… anything else?” Prat asked. Duke Henrik suddenly rifled through his papers for a moment, before coming up with one in particular. He inked his quill, and jotted something down on the back of the paper, before rolling it up and handing it to Captain Seamus. “Be careful, going to Teras – but when you get there, give this to Rial. How long do you figure it'll take to repair the Rattler?”
Seamus took the proffered scroll, noting the already setting wax seal that he knew better than to break. “I figure at least a month. Why?” He looked shrewd. “What're ye thinkin?”
Prat grinned evilly. “That,” he said, indicating the scroll, “Is your new command. While the Rattler is under repairs, I want you to take that ship, and put it to use.”
The Elven sea captain scowled. “Lord Prat, what're ye up to?”
Duke Henrik showed his formidable canines. “Let's just say that I'm going to kill two birds, with one stone. Those damned Nabrolians are mucking up trade with the mainland, and I know of a prototype ship that needs a captain and a crew.”
Seamus glanced at the sealed scroll. “Can ye at least tell me her name?”
Prat said softly, “She's the Copper Kraken, a ship designed by gnomes, built by dwarves, and now about to be crewed by humans and an elf.”
The Elven captain grunted. “Ain't that Rakore-like.”
Prat nodded. “Ain't it.” He shook hands with Captain Seamus, and said, “Now go sink me some triremes, Captain.”
Seamus touched the tip of the scroll to his hat in a salute, and said, “Aye, Lord Prat.”
FOUR: Terras, Cal 7, 1329 Avard.
Captain Seamus stood dockside, a melancholy expression on his fine Elven features as he watched the repair crew boarding the Rattler. His own crew had long since vacated the ship, turning her over to the competent, if somewhat gruff, hands of the shipyards personnel. Beside him, his boss, Rial Mhenace stood watching as well.
“Don't look so glum Seamus.” Rial said as he wrapped an arm around the Elf and began to lead him away, “She'll be better than new in a month or so.”
“I dinnae doubt that.” Seamus replied, his Dwarven accent rather pronounced as he spoke, “But She's a fine ship, and I'm not sure about this Copper Kraken that Lord Prat has dropped in me lap.”
“It's a unique ship.” Rial said thoughtfully as he led the Elf across the dockyard. It took them several marks to wind their way through the organized chaos of the docks until they came to a halt.
Lying moored before them was possibly the oddest ship Seamus had ever laid eyes on: she rode low in the water, was narrow in beam, had a single tower-like structure amidships that rose perhaps two feet above the deck, a light ballistae was mounted fore and aft of the tower, and no masts rose from her decks. A few humans were working forward, checking what looked to be a massive ram bolted to the bow.
”I'm supposed tae take on a Nabrolian trireme in THAT?” Seamus asked in sheer astonishment.
“She's already sent a Kur Maen Trireme to the bottom Seamus.” Rial assured him, “Don't let her looks fool you, she's quite capable.”
“I bloody well hope so.” Seamus muttered, “It's just that the idea seems… well… unnatural.”
“I thought so too… at first.” Rial replied as they crossed the gangplank and made their way to the tower. Unsurprisingly, at least to Seamus, Vladimir, Angus, Maui, Cleo, and several other familiar faces were waiting inside.
“Nice tae see that I'm not the only one out of me mind enough to try this.” Seamus grumbled.
“You are the Captain, we go where you go… sir.” Vladimir said by way of reply.
“Like I'm gonna let you out of my sight… every time I do, you get into trouble.” Cleo informed him.
“Where else am I gonna find enough blood to keep me happy?” Angus asked cheekily.
Seamus allowed himself a slight smile, “Well… I'm glad you all decided to come along then.”
“Not all of us.” Cleo interrupted, “Tor, Hrothgar, Bjarne and Cassandra are gonna stay here until the Rattler is repaired; aside from Cassie, the others are just too big for this tub.”
“I would guess so.” Seamus agreed, to his eye, it looked quite cramped inside the tower, he was certain that this was one of the larger spaces on board. “Well… let's look her over and then see what we have to learn before we go out looking for trouble, shall we?”
Seamus was pleased to see real enthusiasm in his crew's eyes and faces as they voiced their agreement. The Copper Kraken looked to be something new and unexpected in this war. Seamus meant to put her to good use, sinking Nabrolians sounded like a very good use to him indeed. Now if learning to sail this one-of-a-kind underwater boat didn't turn out to be too complicated, they could get on with just that task.
Rial stood to one side and watched as Seamus and his people began to organize. The former First Officer of the Kraken was due to arrive shortly to give them the education they would need to run the ship properly. Judging from the determination and enthusiasm this group had, Duke Henrick had made a good choice. He hoped so; Rakore could use some victories, however small, right now. Captain Seamus was looking more and more like the man to give them some.