Incendiary

A story of a captain who brings turmoil and disaster upon himself and his closest subordinates by a single act of greed.

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8. Mantle of Mist

Morgan stood, gazing out at the dying ship Vanquish. He longed for it to still be mostly buoyant, and imagined it as his first great capture as a pirate captain. The poor vessel was sitting at a forty-five degree angle in the ocean, slowly plunging deeper. He recalled being employed as a hand on board a vessel very similar to the Vanquish when he was a privateer for the British. During a battle, he snuck into the Captain’s Cabin, stole diagrams of the ship along with other helpful documents, and escaped the battle. He had shown the papers to Validus years later, who knew a fair bit about the Vanquish and the ship Morgan was a privateer on. Validus said the two ships were very similar and were part of a series of ships popular in the Royal Navy during their construction a decade ago. The main thing Morgan drew from these recollections was where the powder magazine was located.

The powder magazine of the Vanquish would be in a secure location in the steerage of the ship, in compartments at the stern. The powder magazine would be very hard to hit if the ship was upright; however, with the prow of the Vanquish claimed by the sea and the stern riding on top, the powder magazine would be an easy target. Morgan found the perfect way to kick off the victory celebrations, by blowing the powder magazine of their fallen enemy.

“Daniels!” he called to his chief gunner. Conversation on the deck stopped to hear their new captain’s words.

“Aye, Cap’n?” answered Daniels, moving to his captain’s side.

“Gather a small gun crew, and,” Morgan ordered, pointing to the sinking warship, “let us make some fireworks out of their powder magazine—to begin the celebrations, and what have you.”

“Aye, sir,” replied the officer cheerfully. “Just where precisely is their powder magazine?”

The new captain wrapped his big arm around Daniels. “Allow me to show you.”

Validus’ world was turned upside down; he was terribly conflicted. Sitting with his hands tied at his back in the dinghy with a rower and Commander Marshall glaring down at him, he was torn. He had wanted to get away from ships and seafaring, but he wasn’t quite ready for that yet.

And without a goodbye to his friends, he was being shipped off, ultimately, to his death. He knew Morgan wouldn’t fire on the British longboats. The risk of hitting the Validus’ was too great, and the crew wouldn’t stand for it. Besides, thought Validus dolefully, Morgan wouldn’t save me.

Validus was choked for more reasons than that, though. All of his wealth was in someone else’s hands, likely Morgan’s.

Dirty bastard, he’ll turn me ol’ ship into a monster.

All Validus had left were his helmet, great-coat, armour, and Juarez’s medallion, his only item of real value being the medallion. He had no pistol but just a tiny amount powder for a pistol. The redcoats had stripped him of it all: his maps of great findings, marvellous treasures, narratives and journals of his greatest adventures, all of those were stripped from him as well. He had absolutely nothing, not even freedom.

Suddenly, the pounding of cannon fire erupted from the Boneguard. They were firing on the Vanquish which was now sitting at a forty-five degree angle with its stern standing tall in the air. The redcoats screamed for their rowers to speed up, and Marshall hollered at his. The boats were only about twenty meters from their lost vessel, and in the panic, they were quite uncoordinated and failed to increase their distance from the wreck.

Validus knew precisely what Morgan was doing. A little fun with the powder magazine, he chuckled to himself.

A couple dozen shots ploughed through the sinking stern. The volley subsided, and a great rumble rattled through the air. In a flash, the powder magazine blew; all hell broke loose as the massive explosion tore through the remains of the ship.

As the Britons covered their faces and dove into the water to avoid the debris jetting out in all directions, Validus took his chance at escape and bolted up off his bench. The rower, staring and shrieking at the fireball erupting from the Vanquish, received a hard kick in the face from Validus’ boot. He fell backwards, and the pirate leaped over him. Commander Marshall drew his cutlass and swung it up over his head. Validus spun around and lifted his arms behind his back, spreading his arms out as far as his cheap, rusty manacles would permit. He hopped forward so, when the commander’s blade came arcing down at him in rage, it hit him on the end of the manacles. The old chain broke loose under the blow, and Validus’ hands were free.

Under the residing flames and the rolling smoke, Validus snatched the sabre from the rower, shoved him overboard into the sea, and stood to face the navy commander.

From the two longboats, both the men could hear cries of, “Shoot!” and, “No, don’t shoot!”

Good! Thought Validus. They won’t risk shooting me until I’ve killed their commander.

“Let’s dance, pirate,” taunted Marshall.

“Don’t fall, Commander,” was Validus’ response.

Marshall swung left; Validus parried right. Marshall swung low, and Validus leaped up to dodge it. The pirate came down with a hard slash which the commander stepped aside to avoid, nearly losing his balance.

The small boat rocked and swayed turbulently now. The winds picked up, fog settled in, and the smoke from the explosion swelled. The other longboats seemed to be lost; they were nowhere to be seen through the mist and acrid smoke.

                Validus and Marshall’s fight was fierce; both were skilled, and equally hungry for bloodshed. Their rhythm was as choppy as the sway of the boat, and their form was clumsy. They simply hacked and slashed virulently at one another, their rage mounting, until Validus sliced across Marshall’s chest. The commander’s coat was torn across the upper chest, and he fell back onto the very front of the boat. Blood dripped out onto his coat, but the wound was far from fatal.

                “You missed, pirate!” he exclaimed.

                “Well I won’t be making that mistake again will I?” replied Validus, standing over him. He pulled his sword up over his head, and Marshall delivered a kick to his midsection. He hit Validus’ armour, but the pirate was still knocked backwards, his head colliding with the aft bench of the rowboat.

Marshall rose to his feet, sweat pouring from his face.

Validus got up also, and the two resumed their spiteful duel.

Validus was now dizzy, and Marshall in pain, making it even harder for both to fight under the smoke, their hot coats, and on top of their rocking boat.

As their strength waned, their blows became sloppier, weaker, and less accurate. Their parries and blocks grew worse, until Validus finally struck another wounding blow. He hacked down at Marshall’s hip, slicing down his leg. Blood poured instantly from the commander’s white slacks, and he howled in pain. He fell to the boat on his back, gasping in pain. As he fell, a pistol dropped from the holster on his belt.

Validus dove for it, but Marshall reached it first, whipped it up in front of him, and fired.

The bullet sank into Validus. His heart jumped, and the terror of death fell upon him. Shocked, he snatched the gun from the moaning commander, and stood up shakily. Even after he had lost everything, he still feared death. He dropped the gun behind him and desperately tore open his coat. He could feel the dent the bullet had carved in his armour and his skin, but he yanked the shot out of his chest plate with his trembling hand.

Validus dropped to his knees in relief. He kept the small slug in his hand, and cried out in ecstasy. He wasn’t dead; his armour had saved him yet again. As his rapture shone, he stood up high, with Marshall’s firearm in his firm hand, and gazed down at him. Blood was all over the commander, and he had lost a terrible amount of it. Marshall was gasping for air, his body wasting away. More blood now poured from his chest; his wound was worse than either had perceived.

Validus towered over the failing commander, reloading the weapon with his own powder and the slug that nearly killed him, aiming it at Marshall’s bleeding chest. The last thing the commander saw was Juarez’s gleaming gold rondure sitting proudly across the armoured breast of Validus as the mighty warrior triggered his death.

Validus looked around at the clearing smoke and the condensing fog. There was little to be seen but the sinking remains of the Vanquish. He looked out to where the longboats had been, and could hear them somewhere beyond the fog. He looked at the British ship’s charred ruins, slowly plunging into the sea.

And where the Boneguard had been, she was no more. Sailed off she had to quests and conquests unknown, leaving her old captain behind in the desolate mantle of mist.

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