Ship in the Fog.

This is my entry for the competition. It's not the best and the ending's a bit weak but it's all I had time to do. Any comments for improvement would be appreciated.

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1. The Chase

The captain was stood by the helmsman, eyes fixed astern. Lucien, the first mate, went to his side, expertly dodging his way through the crew on decks, who were rapidly trying to increase the ship’s speed.

   “There,” said Captain Amos. “On the horizon.” He turned to the young man. “Can you see it?”

   Lucien squinted and found he could just make out a faint white speck against the pale blue of the sky. “Shit,” he cursed. “How did they catch up so damn quick?”

   Amos laughed bitterly and spat over the transom. “Does it matter?” He sighed deeply and started to on a wooden rail. “Whatever start we had is being slowly eaten away.” The overweight pirate slapped Lucien on the back with meaty palm and exclaimed: “Still, a stern chase is a long chase, as the saying goes! If we can keep far enough ahead for the rest of the day, we might slip them at night...if there’s enough cloud cover that the moon doesn’t mark our passage,”

   Lucien said nothing; he watched the faint speck in the distance.

 

Throughout the day, they watched the pursuing ship grow in size. At first the ship grew with maddening slowness, but it was now approaching with alarming speed. The sails were no longer simple blurs of white; they were clearly defined. At the tip of the masthead, Lucien could see a red and yellow point.

   Amos regarded the setting sun, which was directly ahead of his fleeing ship, the Sea Swift. He then turned his attention back to the chasing ship. “Can you mark her?” he called to the watch aloft.

   The lookout cried down: “Three-masted warship, Captain!”

   Amos swore and glanced at Lucien. “It’s the Royal Griffin. She’ll overtake us at sundown by the latest.” He slammed a fist into wood, all trace of good humour gone. “If we’d had but ten more minutes, some weather to hide in or if she was just a little slower...”

   “What can we do?” Lucien asked, staring at the Spanish vessel with a small frown creasing the skin between his eyes.

   Amos sighed again and stroked his short, greying beard. “Little, I fear: in a broad reach she's faster; fast enough that we can't shake her with any sort of fancy sailing. If I tried to turn a beam reach just as she came near, I could put a bit of space between us, as we'd both lose speed, but she'd fall off faster for a time. Then as soon as they trimmed sails they'd overhaul us. Also, that would send us southward and there's some nasty shoals and reefs along this stretch of coast." He shook his head, dreadlocked hair flying in the salty wind. "No, too chancy. She'll come in to the windward; when she's alongside, her taller masts will cut our wind and we'll be slow enough to board without so much as a by-your-leave." He shook his head again. "Bastard Spaniards!"

 

Lucien watched the closing ship for another half hour; watched as the distance between the two vessels slowly shrank by a few feet each minute. Amos was holding the ship tight to the wind, driving her to the limit of her speed, but still the Spanish closed.

   "Damn it!" spat Amos, face red from frustration. "If we were running east, we'd lose them in the dark, but westward like this will leave us outlined against the sky for hours after the sun sets; they'll be able to see us but we'll be blind to them."

   The sun sank and the slow chase continued. The warship was less than a thousand yards behind as the sun neared the horizon, an angry red ball above the black-green sea.

   Nine hundred yards; eight hundred yards, the ship came on, rolling inexorably toward them. Small figures could now be seen in the rigging, like ants in a hive.

   When the pursuing ship was only five hundred yards behind, a looming shape on the water, the lookout shouted: "Fog!"

   Amos snapped his head up instantly, startled out of a fuming fury. "Where away?"

   "South-by-west! A mile or more!"

   Lucien and Amos sped for the bow together. Away to the left, a hazy white band stretched across the top of the dark sea.

   "Gods!" Amos cried. "We have a chance! Take us over, helmsman!”

   He immediately set about giving orders, all the while steadily heading for the stern, Lucien with him every step of the way. The distance between the ships had effectively halved upon turning for the fog. Amos scowled and called for his best marksman. The lanky man dropped about ten feet down from the rigging and ran over.

   "Do you think you can discourage their helmsman?” Amos asked, handing the man a rifle. “Take his mind off holding course?"

   The tall man laughed and, grabbing the rifle, settled against the railing, carefully adjusting his balance to compensate for the rolling of the ship. After a short pause, he let off a shot; acrid cordite smoke materialised around his head. "Done," he said and, dropping the rifle to the deck with a clatter, sped back to work in the rigging. Lucien looked back at the other ship and saw their helmsman leaning over the transom, blood pouring from a mortal chest wound. Others started to mill around him, panicked. For a short time at least, they would not be pursued.

   The distance between the two ships was finally increasing and the Royal Griffin was left behind as Captain Amos' Sea Swift entered the fog bank. Amos ordered the ship be turned hard to port and the sails furled.

   "Ready the cannons!" he roared to the crew. Turning to Lucien, he smiled and said: "Now we wait."

   “Do you think they’ll take the bait?”

   “Those dogs would chase us from one corner of the globe to the other if we gave ‘em the chance. If we’re gonna get outta this, we need to stop them from havin’ the opportunity...if you catch my drift.”

   Lucien bared his teeth in a shark’s grin. “We’ll blow those bastards out of the water and send them sinking down to Davy Jones’ Locker.”

   “That’s the spirit!” Amos exclaimed cheerfully. The next second he became deadly serious. “Pass the word for silence.”

   “Quiet,” murmured Lucien, as he moved like a spectre among the crew, only to disappear moments later in the dense, sea-hugging fog. They set about dousing the oil lamps and securing loose sails to minimise noise as quietly as they were able.

   They waited for several minutes. The minutes dragged into hours. Still, they remained alert; wary for any trickery or deception on the part of the Spanish.

   After an eternity, Amos softly treaded his way over to Lucien. “I don’t trust those slippery bastards,” he said. “They’re gonna try and flank us, I’d wager: come in at us from an angle where we’d be defenceless.” He thought for a minute, and Lucien could see he was trying his hardest to put himself in the mindset of the Spanish captain, an ability that had saved him from capture and death many times over. Slowly, he nodded and turned to the helmsman. “Turn to port.”

   The man looked doubtful. “Are you sure? If they don’t-“

   Amos turned on the man, his fury breaking through the surface in a tidal wave of rage. “How dare you question my orders?” he roared in the man’s face, spittle flying from his lips; the helmsman shrank back, cowering before his captain’s wrath. “Do so again and I will make sure you find yourself at the bottom of the ocean with a pair of concrete shoes!”

   The helmsman quickly set about the laborious process of turning the ship, glancing nervously at Amos every few seconds. The captain, however, had moved on; he was on deck, ensuring that all of the guns were ready to fire, Lucien, as always, by his side.

   Then Lucien stopped.

   He’d heard something.

   The long, slow moan of wood settling.

   No-one else seemed to have heard it, but Lucien strained his ears.

   There it was again.

   This time, Amos heard something too; he stopped and cocked his head to the side. Lucien saw a shadow in the fog over the Sea Swift’s railing.

   “Spaniards!” he cried, as bright flashes erupted in the fog and cannonballs tore through the ship.

   The world went black...

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