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An Ocean nightmare

Short story By: Driverman
Fantasy



A tough but impatient fighter, Ragnar is sailing along a coastline with his friends trying to track down some local pirates. when they manage to tempt them in to attacking the battle is hard fought with surprises on both sides, to win through and rid the coast of the pirate threat, Ragnar and his friends have to work together and beat the pirates at their own game.


Submitted:Mar 13, 2013    Reads: 37    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   


AN OCEAN NIGHTMARE

At first sight the merchant ship approaching from astern seemed innocent enough, Ragnar absently scratched his neck where the breastplate of his armour was rubbing slightly. The sun was high and the summer was warm, a combination that always left him itchy and hot on the rare occasions he had to wear the full suit. The steel had the added drawback of clanking together every time he moved, meaning that sneaking up on anyone was quite impossible. Leaving the ships rail he made his way noisily aft and climbed the three small steps to the raised rear deck, he dimly remembered the captain calling it the poop deck but he was in no mood for details. Passing the ships wheel, he nodded to the sailor on duty there and moved to stand beside the captain at the stern rail.

"Another peaceful merchant? Or have we finally found our first Pirate?" The question was heavy with sarcasm. The Escudu was a small two masted merchant ship, hired specifically for the tempting target it would make to pirates by Ragnar and his friends, Cornelius the noble Elf Cleric, Walter the half Elf Cleric\Mage and Alfredo the Elf warrior. But they'd been sailing up and down the coastal islands, hoping to lure the local pirates in to attacking for nearly a full cycle of the moon with no luck.

With a shrug of resignation the captain simply continued to stare at the ship slowly gaining on them, he could understand how being encased in steel for days on end would make even a saint irritable, and Ragnar was no saint to begin with.

"Alas my lord we won't know until the ship gets closer, if and when they hoist their pirate flag, then, our moment will have arrived." Ragnar snorted in response, he'd heard the same words every time they'd sighted anything from a merchant galleon to a one man fishing boat. Clanking back to the slightly cooler main deck he found himself scratching again, cursing the sun and the armour yet again he leaned against the ships side feeling grumpy.

Cornelius the Cleric watched him fidgeting in the armour and smiled at his impatience, he felt a pang of sympathy for the man. After all he wasn't weighed down by a full suit of steel armour, an effective suit of Elven chain mail kept him safe, and a lot cooler. Walking over to stand beside Ragnar, he nodded in the direction of the captain.

"You know what he's going to say, so why bother the man while he's driving the ship?" Ragnar knew what his friend meant, but he wasn't ready to even acknowledge his lack of patience, never mind talk about it.

"You drive a cart, apparently you SAIL a ship." Cornelius almost chuckled at the gruff reply, he knew what was coming next and settled back against the ships side as Ragnar went on. "Anyway you can't call this a ship, it's a fragile merchant, no use in a fight." He'd heard him grumbling about the Escudu since they'd left port, shaking his head he tried again to reassure his friend.

"You said yourself that pirates won't attack fighting ships, this merchant will draw them in to our trap." As Ragnar grunted in reply, Cornelius nodded towards the bow of the ship and went on. "Besides you refused to set sail before we had that fitted, it should give us the edge in battle."

Ragnar followed his gaze to the slightly raised forward deck the captain laughably referred to as the forecastle, squatting innocently there was a freshly mounted ballista. It looked like a giant crossbow resting on the wheel of a cart, the wheel allowed it to be turned to cover a wide firing arc across the front of the ship. Ragnar knew the correct terms for all the parts of the ship, but still insisted on calling the bows the front, even if only to irritate the captain. It was quiet and immobile now, but it had the capability to fire a spear the size of a tree trunk in to any attacking ship.

Taking a deep breath and filling his lungs with the sea air, Ragnar closed his eyes and remembered his teenage days aboard his father's longships. Now that was a proper ship, just one mast with a large square sail and plenty of strong men to row her. In his mind he could almost feel the carved dragons head on it's prow, how he wished he was hunting pirates in that ship instead of this cumbersome merchant. Shaking his head sadly, he came back to the present.

The other ship was drawing closer, not in itself that unusual. Though roughly the same size as the Escudu, the other ship had a third mast allowing her to set more sails, it would've been more surprising if she wasn't gaining on them. When it was almost level with them and passing down their starboard flank, Ragnar returned to the wheel and joined Walter, shielding his eyes from the sun he was leaning on his staff straining to see the ships name.

"She's called the Firefly?" his words sounded like a question, as if a merchant ship had no business bearing such a pretty name. "Not really a typical pirate is she." Walters superior eyesight could be irritating sometimes, Ragnar tried to pretend he'd simply been watching the ship instead of trying to see her name. Without turning he shrugged, as if he truly wasn't worried.

"What does a typical pirate look like?" this question was greeted with silence, broken only by the sound of water gurgling along the ships side. Each man conjured up the image in his head of a 'typical' pirate, knowing immediately they were probably wrong. "He'll look like whatever he thinks will put you at ease, if you're a monk he'll look like a peasant in need. If you're a merchant he'll look like another merchant, he'll do whatever it takes to make you drop your guard." His small speech was greeted with grim nods of understanding, his friends knew Ragnars history and none doubted the truth of his words. Moving up to stand beside him, Cornelius rested a hand on his friends shoulder.

"Talking of pretending to be something you're not, if we want pirates to attack us, should we be standing in plain view in full armour?" The point was well made and Ragnar wondered if they'd already been considered as a target, if the Firefly was truly a pirate ship. His figure stalking the deck looking eager for a fight, might well have made them decide to move on to easier pickings. Part of him resented the fact that Cornelius had pointed out what should've been obvious to him, he knew it was his pride that made him walk the deck in armour, as if he could dare the pirates in to attacking. Cursing his impatience he turned to follow his friends below, but as they reached the ladder to the lower decks, a shout from the stern turned all their heads.

The captain was pointing at the other ship, it looked suddenly bigger though that was only as it changed course. Heeling over as it turned sharply, to close on the Escudu as fast as the wind would take her. A group of men in shabby clothes and bits of mismatched armour no doubt looted from their victims, were shouting and waving short curved swords in the air. At least Ragnar assumed they were shouting, their mouths were open but the ship was still too far away for their voices to carry. As he watched he saw a flash of black like a scar on the clear blue sky, at the top of her mainmast a flag was whipping in the breeze. It bore the image of a white skull on a black background, it was the hated symbol used by pirates across all oceans. Looking at the men in her bow Ragnar found himself calmly thinking, so that's what a typical pirate looks like.

Turning he noticed his friends were already busy, Alfredo was shouting at the sailors manning the ballista to get it ready to fire. Walter had moved to the stern and was beside the captain, preparing whatever spells he could call on to help. Cornelius had twenty of the ships crew struggling in to chain mail shirts, he was passing out crossbows and forming the men in to a line along the ships side, not to form any effective attack on the pirate but ready to repel boarders. Looking back at the captain, Ragnar grinned broadly.

"Seems we've finally tempted a pirate to chance his luck." The master returned the smile and pushed the helmsman aside, taking over steering his ship personally. "Bring us round to an intercept course, let's show him the mistake he's made today." The wheel blurred in the captains hands and the sailors adjusted the sails as the Escudu settled on her new course, moving to the bows Ragnar smiled as they sailed straight towards the enemy ship.

Some of the pirates in the bows of the pirate ship had stopped waving their swords, Ragnar knew what they were thinking. Merchants turn and run, they don't sail towards you ready to fight. Looking at Alfredo and his ballista crew, he nodded to the fast approaching pirate ship.

"They're not so sure now are they lads?" the sailors manning the weapon laughed nervously, Alfredo stepped forward and slapped the shaft of the huge spear ready to be fired.

"They'll want to run home to their mothers when we fire this through their hull eh men?" This time the laughter held more confidence and unseen by the sailors, Alfredo nodded to Ragnar. The men were seasoned warriors and knew they were on the attack and had surprised the pirates, but the sailors on the Escudu had never fought a battle and needed encouragement and clear leadership, both men knew this.

The two ships were closing fast now, the shouts of the pirates were starting to carry to their intended prey. Most were crude insults or threats with the occasional call to surrender, ignoring them Alfredo sighted along the ballista spear gauging the time to fire. Ragnar remained silent, two men giving orders would confuse the sailors and could cause disaster. After all Alfredo had been training with the sailors since they'd left port, together they made a good team.

"Steady boys, steady." The sailors manning the ballista responded to Alfredo's words, they used wooden poles to adjust the weapon on its mounting wheel. Notches were cut in to the wheel, allowing to be secured in place once Alfredo had it pointing at the spot on the enemy ship he wanted to hit. The pirate was rising and falling on the swell, he was trying to time the shot to hit below the water line. If he got it right, the shot could cause enough damage to sink the ship before it even got close.

Ragnar found his attention drawn to a solitary figure on the other ship, he stood out as he wasn't waving a sword or shouting, instead he was watching Alfredo and the ballista crew profoundly. Faint alarm bells began to sound in Ragnars head, but he couldn't be sure why.

Happy with the position of the ballista Alfredo tapped the shoulder of the sailor on his left, with a grunt the man let the weapon drop in to the guiding notches securing its position and readying for firing. A movement aboard the pirate ship caught Ragnars attention, the sailor who'd been staring at the preparations had turned and was waving at something or someone out of sight. He tried not to let it bother him, the ships were closing very fast now and the ballista would fire any moment.

Suddenly he noticed a change in the pirate ships position, it was leaning almost imperceptibly as a change of course started to take effect. Understanding hit Ragnar like a slap in the face, the lone pirate had been waiting for the ballista to be secured for firing. With the ships closing so fast there was no time left to adjust it, but as the pirate turned it robbed Alfredo of his shot below the water line. Worse still, the ship would be out of the ballista's arc of fire in scant seconds.

With a simple last minute course change the pirates had made their prime weapon all but useless, Ragnar felt a grudging respect for their leader's ability, but knew they had to act fast even to get a shot off at all. Turning he tried to get the captains attention, if the Escudu could match the pirates turn they could keep the ballista on target. The man had seen what was happening and the wheel blurred in his hands as he tried to bring the bows around towards the pirate, even as the wheel turned, the captains expression betrayed his belief that it was all too late. In his heart Ragnar knew it too, Alfredo must've felt the same, in the last couple of heartbeats before he lost the chance completely, he fired.

Ragnar spun at the crash and slam of the ballista firing, the noise seemed to cast a spell over the scene. Everything felt like it was happening in slow motion, even though he knew it was all going too fast to control. Hope rose in his heart as the giant spear flew lazily across the gap between the two ships, a wave broke on the pirate's hull throwing spray over the wooden shaft. The moment seemed to freeze as the spray flashed like crystals on the iron point, at that moment Ragnar felt he could stroll across the water and wipe the shaft clean. Even to carry on aboard the enemy ship, walking around her decks as the crew stood motionless around him.

The spell was broken as the ballista spear crashed in to the pirate's hull, the screaming of tortured metal and splintering wood jarred his senses. The spear shattered against the other hull leaving a long jagged scar but no real damage, Alfredo looked dejected, turning to him he nodded at the enemy ship.

"The angle was just too narrow, we never stood much chance once they started that turn." Ragnar nodded with understanding, turning he watched the pirate ship passing frighteningly close down their starboard side. He only called it the right side to irritate the captain, but now they were literally all in the same boat, it was time to fight or die. As his mind raced a familiar voice cut through his thoughts, turning he saw Cornelius pointing at the men on the pirates deck.

"Knock em off the rail men, FIRE!" As one, twenty crossbows launched their lethal bolts across the small gap. Many of the pirates ducked instinctively but some were too slow, screams and curses could be heard as the Escudu's sailors began furiously reloading their weapons. With a smile and a nod Cornelius shouted encouragement to his men, discreetly reaching under his chain mail vest to grasp the holy symbol hanging around his neck. Concentrating on his crossbowmen he softly whispered, almost to himself.

"Gracious and noble Elven lord Frey, with your aid help us win this day, allow me to fix this unholy mess, confer upon us all your most holy Bless." As he finished speaking a light blue aura shimmered around all the people aboard the Escudu, causing smiles and the odd laugh. At the same moment the men visible aboard the pirate ship ducked out of sight or stopped waving swords, the general feeling of confidence filled the crew of the Escudu, while the pirates felt as if hope were slipping away. Not really knowing why Ragnar suddenly felt better about the battle he knew they were now committed to, he turned to Alfredo and his ballista crew, whist drawing the battleaxe from his back he grinned savagely.

"Come on lads, this battles not lost yet." Turning he ran past Cornelius and his men, heading for the raised aft deck and the captain. The pirate was turning back towards them now, it looked like the Escudu's stern was where the two ships would come together. If any Pirates wanted to board them, Ragnar wanted to be the first man they'd meet.

As he reached the steering position he noticed Walter standing calmly by the ships side, his mouth was moving in a rhythmic way but no sound was coming out. Then he nodded as if reaching a decision, reaching in to the leather pouch at his belt he withdrew a small round object about the size of a hens egg. Ragnar couldn't see what it was, but Walter held it aloft and stared in to the enemy ships rigging.

"Lets make their fortunes flow and ebb, we'll hold their sails within my web." As he finished speaking he lightly tossed the object over the ships side, Ragnars heart sank, the throw was nothing like strong enough to reach the other ship but then a strange thing happened.

Whatever it was it didn't fall but simply hovered a few feet from the ships side, then it began to glow a bright green colour before abruptly leaping across the narrow gap to the enemy ship. As it got close to the other ship it blossomed in to thousands of tiny web like tendrils, these wrapped around the ships sails and rigging holding it tight to the masts. The ship slowed almost immediately, coming close to stopping completely. Walter nodded with satisfaction as he saw the pirates caught in the confusion of his spell, Ragnar felt some relief, if they could now get some distance between them and the stranded pirate, they could use the ballista without risking ship to ship combat.

Turning to the captain his new found hope was shattered, he saw the man holding the wheel grimly, as he caught Ragnars eye he nodded almost casually towards the pirate ship.

"Watch out for the grapples my Lord." Almost immediately the sound of splintering wood snapped Ragnars attention down to the deck close to his feet, a rough hook was lodged in the wood with a thick rope attached. Swinging his axe swiftly he severed the rope but more were coming, Alfredo set his men to cutting them, but their short swords were not designed for such mundane work and were too slow.

Abruptly the ropes that were holding snapped tight, the Escudu lurched almost to a halt causing everyone aboard to stagger and fight for balance. Ragnar turned to see the sailors with crossbows struggling to get back on their feet, Cornelius was helping but their second volley had been halted by the ships sudden lurch. The pirates were rushing to haul the two ships together, eager to launch the attack on to the Escudus deck.

Ragnar could feel the frustration of a situation beginning to spin out of control, he knew that feeling could lead to panic and he forced himself to calm down. Taking a moment to watch the pirate ship pulling closer to their stern he saw a weakness, not much of a weakness but something he could use. Like a flash of sunlight on a dull day, a plan formed in his head.

Most of the grappling hooks were lodged in the deck closer to the rear of the ship, as the pirates heaved on the lines they drew the stern of the Escudu tight in to their ships side. But the stern was narrow, and no more than two pirates would be able to cross at a time. Turning he looked for Cornelius and his crossbowmen, they were all back on their feet and ready to fight, catching his friends eye he pointed aft.

"Form your men up on the rear deck, I'll hold them while you load and fire." As Cornelius nodded and shouted at his men to move, Ragnar ran to the rear of the ship, he snatched his shield from behind the wheel as he passed and stood axe in hand waiting for the first pirates to board.

The first two men leapt across the gap screaming for blood, Ragnar buried his axe in the first ones belly and caught the second man on his shield, heaving him over the ships side in to sea. With a cough the first pirate died as the axe was wrenched from his stomach, Ragnar hardly had time to think before the next two men landed on his deck with screams of fury. Seeing the death of their comrades the men moved quickly to sweep the lone fighter aside, moving in low Ragnar swept the first mans legs out with his axe and caught the second attack on his shield. As the pirate moved to try again, he found the axe had slipped past his guard and sliced deeply in to his throat. With a look of total shock on his face and a horrible gurgling sound in his throat, he fell to die on the deck of the ship he meant to plunder.

As Ragnar moved back to the ships stern to stop the next attack, the captain shoved the pirate with the smashed legs off his ship and in to the sea. Then he snatched up the mans weapon and moved to stand beside the fighter defending the ship, as he moved up beside him the voice of Cornelius called out from behind.

"Both of you get down." The two men dropped to the deck, Ragnar turned to look and saw two rows of crossbowmen, one rank was kneeling and the rear rank were standing. As he took all this in he noticed Cornelius at the end of the rear rank, he watched his friend bring his hand down in a slashing motion, "FIRE." With a scream and a curse the pirates crossing to the deck were swept aside, tumbling in to the sea or falling back to their own deck. As Cornelius set his men to reload, Ragnar and the captain scrambled to their feet. But the deck wasn't wide enough for both men to fight side by side, nudging the captain's shoulder Ragnar nodded towards the wheel.

"There's no room, you stand by the wheel and take any that get past me." The man understood and took a few steps back to stand by the helm, mindful of the crossbows behind he watched and sent a silent prayer to the Goddess to preserve the fighter protecting his ship.

. Ragnar was actually feeling a little better now the battle was joined, but the pirates were learning to be more cautious. The next two attackers timed their jump to land in front of him together, he caught the downward strokes of their swords on his shield but the force of it drove him to his knees. Struggling to rise he knew he didn't have the time to recover before the next few pirates would have boarded, the pale cold tendrils of despair were starting to reach for his heart when Cornelius called out.

"Ragnar, stay down." Dropping on to his back he saw the pirates raise their swords to finish him off, the crossbows caught them and threw the men back against the stern, they even caught a few from the next wave lining up to try and kill him. With no time to relax he clambered to his feet, the rear deck was choked with dead and dying pirates but more were starting to come. A few of the pirates had found some crossbows and were starting a ragged fire at the sailors packed on the deck behind him, but they were facing their own particular problems.

Alfredo had seen there was no room for him by his friend's side, so he'd drawn his longbow and was happily knocking the pirates with crossbows off the ships rail whenever they showed their head. Likewise Walter had his eyes open for any attacker trying to swing out and round the battle on the rear deck, several had already been plucked from their ropes by an unseen force and flung in to the sea.

Both men knew the main threat was still the bulk of the pirate crew, which was still trying to storm past the lone fighter at the stern.

Ragnar climbed atop the pile of dead and scanned the enemy ships deck, two men were moving to face him and at least a dozen more were ready to replace them. Hefting his axe he hopped on to the ships stern rail blocking any approach, the two men worked together but he was expecting that by now. One brought his sword in low trying to sweep the troublesome fighter off his feet, the second aimed high trying to deal a mortal blow while the man was distracted. But Ragnar was no stranger to this kind of fighting, deflecting the high attack with his shield he simply jumped at the right moment, allowing the low blow to pass harmlessly under his feet. Sadly for the pirate concerned the sword continued on it's course and lodged in his comrades knee, with a scream the man fell down to the boiling sea between the ships. Before his crewmate could recover from killing one of his own, Ragnar took care of him with his axe.

More pirates were taking the place of the dead, scrambling to kill this surprisingly tough fighter and loot his ship. Shouts and jeers came from those not close enough to join the attack, Ragnar saved his breath for the battle. Giving ground to lure more of the enemy to the ships side, then ducking to allow the crossbows to fire. It was an effective defence but he knew it hinged on him staying healthy, as soon as he grew tired or was wounded the pirates would swarm over the Escudu killing all aboard.

Almost as if his thoughts had made it happen the pirates abruptly stopped trying to cross to his ship, catching his breath he wondered for a moment if they'd decided to surrender. His heart sank however as the pirate crew parted, allowing their captain to step forward.

At least as tall as Ragnar the man had long black hair that fell untidily about his shoulders, a livid red scar traced a jagged line from his mouth to his ear. He wore a white silk shirt covered by a black captain of the guard's jacket, no doubt looted from an earlier victim. A pair of black cotton breeches went down to a fine pair of brown riding boots, a black wide brimmed hat sat squarely on his head and he held a long curved dagger in a light underhand grip.

Slowly he advanced towards the ships rail, never taking his eyes from Ragnar he reached in to his jacket and drew a long curved scimitar that flashed in the sunlight. His men were smiling with anticipation, this was a show they'd no doubt seen before and were looking forward to. Coming to a halt a dozen feet from the ships side the captain swung the scimitar in a gentle circle, smiling with surprisingly white teeth he turned hard blue eyes to glare at Ragnar.

"So, you thought you'd fight instead of run? Had yourself a bit of luck and killed a few of my men." The mans tone was almost conversational, as if he were speaking to a slow and disobedient child. "If you think this will hurt me or halt my domination of this coast you are wrong, if you had run I would have still caught you, but I would've spared a few, now I won't stop until you're all dead and sipping seawater." The threat was plain but delivered in an almost bored manner, as if what was about to happen had already occurred. Ragnar was surprised by how well spoken the man was, he'd expected a coarse dialect almost beyond understanding. Instead the voice was almost noble, the mans speech was probably the only noble thing about him. Ragnar kept his shield before him protecting his front, resting his bloody axe over his right shoulder he shook his head solemnly.

"You have met your match today Pirate scum, no more will you terrorise the weak and murder the innocent." He tried to match the tone the pirate had used, but he was conscious that his own slightly coastal accent made him sound oafish by comparison. The captain simply chuckled as if all this were beneath him, raising his weapons he drew the blade of the scimitar along the daggers edge, the metallic sound this produced sounded like a demons hiss.

As the man levelled his blades at him, Ragnar crouched in to a fighting stance. Staring in to those cold blue eyes he waiting for the attack, abruptly the pirate stamped his right foot forward, lunging at the fighter's right thigh.

"Now you die." The attack was quick and the scream almost caught Ragnar off guard, he skipped sideways avoiding the sword, but the pirate laughed and leapt forward to plunge the dagger in to his ankle. Off balance and left with no choice, he jumped back to avoid the dagger but landed heavily amongst the dead on the Escudus deck.

Silently he cursed himself, the captain had tricked him and very nearly dealt him a disabling wound. Still winded from the fall, he looked up to see the man hop on to the ships rail and stare down at him smiling. Clearly this was an old trick he'd used before, Ragnar was just the latest victim but he still had an ace up his sleeve. Instead of struggling to his feet he merely returned the mans smile, then the smile abruptly vanished and without turning he spoke two words.

"Now Cornelius." He had wanted to defeat the pirate fairly, but he wasn't above using surprise to his advantage. The crossbows were ready and Cornelius slashed his arm down signalling his men to fire, the pirate captain looked calm without a hint of shock or surprise on his face. He stepped calmly back dropping lightly to crouch on his own deck, once the crossbow bolts had passed uselessly overhead he hopped back on to the ships rail and smiled.

Still lying on the rear deck Ragnar stared open mouthed, he'd never seen a man move so quickly with such casual ease. Laughing at his face the man calmly stepped over the dead bodies of his crew, bringing his blades ever closer to Ragnars prone body. Snapping out of his shock he scrambled backwards along the deck until he got to the ships wheel, pressing his back against it he got to his feet risking a look over his shoulder.

The crossbowmen were reloading furiously, but the weapons took time that the pirate captain wanted to take advantage of. Turning back he saw the man smiling as he advanced, holding his shield before him Ragnar moved away from the helm hoping to spring a surprise of his own. Jumping forward and leading with his shield he swung his axe in low, aiming for the pirate's legs. With a quick sidestep the man dodged the axe, then leapt in close past the shield. The scimitar scraped harmlessly across Ragnars breastplate, but with a practised turn the pirate slipped his dagger beneath the straps on his shield, neatly severing them and making the shield clatter to the deck.

Ragnar was propelled backwards by the confrontation, slamming hard in to the ships wheel. Holding his axe before him he had no time to wonder at the speed and skill of his opponent, with his shield lying uselessly at his feet he was forced to defend and attack with his axe.

The pirate closed in once more not wanting to allow the crossbowmen time to reload, striking with both weapons he kept the fighter off balance and unable to strike back. It was an extremely effective technique he'd used again and again, he knew it was only a matter of time before his chance would come to kill the troublesome fighter.

Ragnar barely had time to think with his back to the wheel and his shield gone, he was forced in to using his axe just to defend himself. The captain was a quick and talented swordsman who was looking to finish him before the crossbowmen were ready to fire again, using the axe head he deflected the blows from the scimitar whilst trying to parry the dagger thrusts with the handle. His battle axe was an excellent weapon for the open battlefield, but the pirate was too close for him to use it effectively.

Knocking aside a downward slash from the scimitar he tried to force the captain away, if he could just make a big enough gap between them he could find room to swing his axe. Too late he saw the dagger flash past the axe handle and slide up under his breastplate, pain exploded against his side as the dagger skittered across his ribs. Leaning in closer the pirate forced him back against the wheel, smiling as he felt the dagger draw blood.

"You should've run while you had the chance, now I'll kill you all for challenging me." Staring in to the cold blue eyes Ragnar felt the strength draining out of him as the blood trickled from his wound, despair and panic threatened to overwhelm him but he was not going to lay down and die like this.

A fire the like of which he'd only felt a few times in his life raged through him, coursing around his body like caged lightning it ignited his fury and gave him strength. He returned the pirates glare without a hint of fear, then a voice he didn't recognise as his own growled.

"I do not run." The man ignored his words and stepped back raising his scimitar for the final blow, he'd left the dagger jammed in the fool's ribs so he could use both hands to add force to the strike. Suddenly the oafish peasant he'd thought beaten pushed away from the wheel with some new found strength, a fury the captain hadn't seen before blazed in his eyes. He knew the fighter couldn't swing his axe in the close up battle he'd forced on him, but the man wasn't using the blade.

A gauntleted fist wrapped around the solid wood handle that was no longer needed to defend against the dagger, was now driving with increasing speed towards the captain's face. Stepping back he desperately tried to bring the scimitar across his body to deflect the blow, but with the sudden change of his fortunes he proved too slow.

Ragnar felt the pirates jaw crumble as his fist slammed in to the mans face, the cold blue eyes glazed as the shock reverberated through the skull. Taking his chance before the man could recover he turned a full circle, swinging his axe in high so the blade sliced cleanly through the captain's neck.

The pirates head seemed to jump from his body landing with a fleshy sound on the already blood soaked deck, his wide brimmed hat was caught by the gentle breeze and drifted forlornly over the side to land softly amongst the waves. Still shaking from the rage boiling inside him Ragnar snatched a handful of hair and lifted the severed head, leaping on to the Escudus stern rail he brandished the trophy high in the air. Glaring down at the pirate crew staring up at him, with his bloody axe in one hand and their captain's head in the other. The same voice that spoke the last words their captain had heard, rose in is throat screaming with the fury.

"I am a fighter, I walk the dark shadowy paths that no one else walks, I stand the bridge that none shall pass." The pirates stared in shock and horror at the apparition before them, some plainly thought this unstoppable warrior to be a conjured demon they could not defeat. Whatever their thoughts they all made their choice quickly, dropping their weapons they backed nervously away from him and held their hands out in surrender.

Led by Cornelius the crew of the Escudu swarmed past Ragnar as he stood on the rail daring any enemy to approach, they quickly herded the remaining pirates together and within minutes they were securely tied up.

As he watched Ragnar felt the fury drain from him like water from a sieve, slowly he climbed down to sit on what had been the enemy deck, wincing as he realised the pirates dagger was still lodged in his side. He slowly dragged the weapon from his flesh but couldn't stifle a chuckle, despite the pain he realised he'd won the battle with it stuck against his ribs.

Blood was gently oozing from the wound but he'd survived worse, he was about to stand and head back aboard the Escudu, when a hand wrapped in fine chain mail landed on his shoulder pushing him back down to sit. Looking up with some irritation, he saw the stern but caring features of Cornelius.

"Oh no you don't, you're not going anywhere until I've treated that wound." He started to protest but knew it was futile, the Cleric helped him out of his breastplate and without a word tore open his blood stained shirt.

"Easy on the shirt, I thought you were trying to help." Cornelius ignored his words and concentrated on the wound, tutting loudly he reached for his satchel and healing kit.

"The dagger ruined the shirt anyway, I need to see what I'm doing you vain old fool," Ragnar wasn't quite sure how to respond, he knew the man was right, but he still felt he should say something.

"Less of the old eh?" Cornelius stopped what he was doing and looked up sharply, his mouth opened and closed a few times before any words came out.

"So you don't mind being called a vain fool, just as long as nobody calls you old?" Ragnar merely shrugged but couldn't hold back a smile, the two friends looked at one another for a moment, then they both started to laugh.





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