A Crimson Storm

A Crimson Storm

Status: In Progress

Genre: War and Military

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Details

Status: In Progress

Genre: War and Military

Houses:

Summary

On Storm Island, Kings, Lords, Exiles, Mercenaries, and Pirates are vying for power, supremacy, gold, and women. Kings will rise, Kings will fall, unlikely people will come into power, friendships will be built and broken.
On Storm Island, honour and valour must try to outdo the treachery and chaos that runs amok.
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Summary

On Storm Island, Kings, Lords, Exiles, Mercenaries, and Pirates are vying for power, supremacy, gold, and women. Kings will rise, Kings will fall, unlikely people will come into power, friendships will be built and broken.
On Storm Island, honour and valour must try to outdo the treachery and chaos that runs amok.

Chapter1 (v.1) - Arthur I

Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: March 12, 2017

Reads: 43

A A A | A A A

Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: March 12, 2017

A A A

A A A

Arthur Whitestaff

 

“What do you think you’re doing, boy? Get a move on, will you!”

Crack. The whip tore into Arthur’s unprotected back. The pain was terrible, but Arthur gritted his teeth, determined not to let is show. He would not let Itsuki see him as weak. He scurried towards the Portly Maiden, a fat-bellied trading galley out of Westerfort. Or maybe Stormguard, or even Springmore or Aumont. No-one told Arthur these things. His job was to heave heavy goods off the ship or heave them back on, not to ask questions about where the boat was from. Sometimes he dreamed of boarding one of the boats in the black of night and sailing off to faraway lands to become a mighty emperor, or a rich spice merchant, or even a pirate king.

Crack. Arthur had lingered too long. This time he was not ready for the whip, and he let out a cry of pain. Itsuki sneered at him. Crack.

Arthur’s eyes began to water, but he kept his mouth shut this time and darted off towards the galley from an unknown port. A gaunt, horse-faced man looked at him as if he was a tool and pointed towards a cask of ale, or perhaps beer. Arthur struggled with the cask, heaving it onto his shoulder and lugging it up the gangplank towards the tavern on the dockside, the turgid wood digging into the flesh of his shoulder. Itsuki glared at him as he passed. Ignoring him, Arthur kept on towards the tavern, where a fat man with greasy black hair pointed him towards a cellar.

Arthur carried barrels and casks up and down for the best part of the morning, until the Portly Maiden’s hold was empty and Arthur’s shoulders were red and torn up. Itsuki called Arthur and his fellow workers together.

“Go and get yourself some lunch, boys. Be back in half an hour, or they’ll be trouble,” he snarled.

A wave of madness, or perhaps bravery, washed over Arthur.

I’m never coming back, he thought, I’m done with hauling barrels up and done a gangplank, I’m done with the Outpost Islands, and I’m done with you most of all.

 Along with all the other boys, he hurried off, his back still tender and bleeding from the lashes he’d received earlier, combined with the continual weight of the barrels.

He knew that Itsuki would come looking for him - or more likely would send someone else to do his dirty work for him, as usual - if he didn’t return in time, so he had to get far away, and quickly.

Barefoot and dressed only in filthy rags, Arthur ran through busy streets and deserted plazas, wide avenues and narrow alleys, distancing himself as much as he could from Itsuki and his horsehair whip. As he ran, he knocked into fat tradesmen and stick-thin beggars, iron-clad city guards and naked little children, drawing shouts of irritation and even having blows aimed at him by the less tolerant of them. His feet began to ache and slip, and he almost fell when turning a corner on a cobbled street.

After what seemed like hours of running, although it couldn’t possibly have been that long, Arthur arrived at the dockside on the far side of the city. Back in the Toredo Harbour where Arthur had come from, the grubby jetties were packed with trading ships from all over; twin-sailed pucungs from the Perak Islands to the West of the Orange Sea; sleek veterladjes from the Crimson Cities of the South; wide, wooden-hulled galleys from Westerfort and Aumont on Storm Island to the North-East.

But here, in the Tatakai Harbour to the South of Seifukumi, it was very different. There were no trading ships, no spiced wines or silken robes being sold for excessive prices. The Tatakai Harbour was where the warships and transport cogs docked; teeming with prospective paymasters trying to enlist your sword to their cause.

An idea came to Arthur as he stood examining the ships in the harbour. He saw a small cog flying a green banner and sporting the crossed halberds that signified the Ten Great Legions of Storm Island. Arthur knew that each of the companies had a colour, but he didn’t know which bore green.

I’ve always wanted to go to Storm Island, thought Arthur, that’s where my parents were from. Maybe I’ll find out about them over there. My father was a great and noble lord, I know he was. He must have been.

Nervously, Arthur descended the steep stone steps that led down onto the slim, orderly jetties of the Tatakai Harbour. Walking slowly, he made his way towards the Storm Islandish cog, not making eye contact with the sellsword captains of countries to the East, and West, and South, fabled empires and puny islands.

The cog was moored at the farthest away jetty, and the walk to reach it felt agonisingly long.

When he finally arrived, he saw a tatty green tent erected on the dockside next to the cog, also flying the crossed halberds. Inside the tent was a gnarly old man sat behind a table, sharpening his knife. As Arthur approached, the old man straight into his eyes and spat something out onto the floor next to him. Arthur went to speak, but the old man was quicker.

“Who‘re you then? Wantin’ to enlist in one of the Great Legions?”

He flashed Arthur a grin. His teeth were bright red, horribly crooked and out of place. The old man was very ugly, even grotesque. His face was long and stretched, the left side of which was covered with blotches of red and purple. Arthur gulped.

“Yeah, I’d like to. Which do you represent? The Royal Bastards? The Golden Lances?”

They were the only two that Arthur had heard of, the most prestigious and battle-hardened of all the mercenary armies that made up the Ten Great Legions. He’d heard stories of how the Royal Bastards had formed the vanguard of the Storm Islandish host at the Battle of Chaos Keep, and how the Golden Lances had single-handedly defeated a whole Turgol invasion force when they broke the Siege of Queensteel, the legendary Sir George Love at their head.

The old man grinned again. The sight made Arthur feel queasy.

“Even bett’r, than tha’, son. The Sons of Tarquin.”

Arthur’s heart plummeted. Of all the Ten Great Legions, the Sons of Tarquin had the worst reputation. Over the years, they’d become known for cowardice and subordination, so were only hired by really desperate minor lords, and men were known to starve to death due to the lack of income.

It doesn’t matter, thought Arthur, it’s my passage to Storm Island. I don’t have to stick around.

“Tell me more,” he said.

The old man grinned again.

Please stop that, thought Arthur.

“Lessee,” said the old man, “Tarquin’s Thunder sets sail tomorrow morning for Stormguard, with about thirty new recruits. You can join ‘em if ya want, it’s decent pay and ya get ye food for fo’ free so long as ya pledge to be brave and ‘onourable in when faced with battle. Interest’d?”

No, thought Arthur.

“Yes,” said Arthur, “That sounds great. Any chance I can stay on the boat until you depart?”

“Ye cheeky bugger! Alright, ya can stay on till we leave, butya gotta help out in the kitchens, fair?”

“Thank you.”

“What’s ye name, boy? Ya look like ye from Storm Island, in my eyes.”

“Arthur. Arthur Whitestaff. My parents were from Storm Island.”

“Whitestaff? I think I knew a Whitestaff once,” the old man frowned, “or it mighta been a Wisestaff. ‘Twas a long time ago, I can’t remember. Anyway, welcome aboard, Arthur Whitestaff. I’m Horace Berhorn, ‘ead of recruitment for the Sons of Tarquin.”

He grinned again, and gestured towards the cog.

“Gowan then!”

Arthur forced a smile and made his way onto the boat. The upper deck was deserted, but down in the main cabin, a gaggle of boisterous men were sat hunched around an upturned crate, playing some sort of card game and drinking ale. Arthur decided not to join them, instead sitting by himself in the far corner. Ever curious, he studied the men which whom he’d be sharing the voyage.

The one that stood out most to Arthur was a huge man, almost seven foot tall, his face scarred in five - no, six - different places, some thin cuts and others great wide gashes. His teeth were not even yellow, they were a dark grey colour, and horribly deformed. The man’s tongue was grotesquely shaped, as if he’d taken a bite out of it at some point. Even his skin had a strange orange hue in places, and Arthur was sure he spied mold in the man’s hair.

The other men were also ugly, but in comparison to the big man, they looked almost respectable. Some were short, others tall, some dark-skinned, some pasty white, but none handsome.

The Sons of Tarquin, Arthur thought. If the tales he’d overheard in brothels and taverns were to be believed, the men of the Golden Lances were all beautiful, blue-eyed and golden-haired, and the Royal Bastards all stood exactly six foot and were as strong as a bull. It seemed to Arthur that the Sons of Tarquin had been forced to sweep up the scum of cities to fill their dwindling ranks, in this case thieves and rapists from Seifukumi.

He sat in silence for a long hour, twiddling his thumbs and watching the game of cards unfold. He didn’t know the rules, so he could derive no entertainment from the game.

What am I doing? He thought. He would be expected, if not forced, to sign a contract with the Sons on arrival in Stormguard, and contract-breakers were hated and disrespected in all of Storm Island.

Do I have to be a sellsword for the next few years? That wouldn’t have been so bad, so long as food and steady pay were provided, but the Sons were notorious for providing neither. Maybe I can escape in Stormguard, but I have to get to Storm Island, or Itsuki will find me. He shivered at the thought.

Arthur’s musings were interrupted when the ugly old man - the head of recruitment - came in, his terrifying grin smeared across his face.

“A’right lads? We’ve ‘ad a change of plan. Some nasty business is goin’ down in the city, so we’re leaving right ‘bout now. Any’ne not coming?”

No-one spoke. The old man did the grin again. Arthur winced.

“Good, good. Arthur Whitestaff!”

Arthur looked up quickly. The old man was still grinning.

“It’s time fo’ dinner, boy. Go and ‘elp in the kitchen, will ya?”

Arthur did as he was told. He worked in the cog’s kitchen, peeling potatoes and chopping carrots, and stewing meat. It was a lot easier than shifting barrels of ale, and Arthur liked the smell of meat and spices.

When he was finished, he returned to the main cabin and ate alone. The food was meagre, but once again it was better than he’d ever been given by Itsuki. The pork - at least, Arthur thought it was pork - was tender and juicy, and Arthur wolfed it down eagerly along with his carrots and potatoes, and washed it all down with a tankard of thick, tart ale.

As they are, Arthur heard shouting from the deck above, and the cabin shook as the cog moved off from the jetty, headed towards Stormguard.

After they’d eaten, all the men blundered off into an adjoining cabin, as big as the main cabin, but filled with hammocks in place of tables and chairs. Arthur chose an unoccupied hammock and slumped down on his back, exhausted. His eyelids shut of their own accord.

When he woke, Arthur yawned widely and stretched his arms, having completely forgotten he was in a hammock. The material lurched violently, and Arthur was thrown onto the wooden floor with a dull thump.

Arthur heard gentle laughter coming from across the cabin and looked up groggily. The huge man he’d seen the day before was sat on a hammock, smiling at him and chuckling.

“You alright there, pal?”

Huh?

“Oh yeah, I’m fine, thanks. Just a bit… I don’t know. Yeah, I’m fine.”

The huge man smiled again.

“You’ll get used to the hammock. Hey, I’m Alfred. Alfred Burmose, that is. You’re Arthur, if I remember right?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m Arthur. Arthur Whitestaff.” he surveyed the room. “Where is everyone else?”

Alfred shrugged.

“In the main cabin I guess, breaking their fast.”

Arthur remembered. “I probably should have helped prepare breakfast, the old man said I was to help in the kitchens.”

Alfred grinned at him.

“Yep, you’re gonna get bollocked if I know Horace Berhorn. Or the old man, if you’re going to call him that.”

Arthur grimaced, and made towards the main cabin. Alfred made no effort to follow him. Arthur stopped and looked back at him.

“Not coming?”

“Nope, I can’t stand eating while I’m on a ship, I get massively seasick. It’s two weeks or so to Stormguard, I’ll have to eat something, but for now I’ll pass, you know?”

Two weeks to Stormguard? That made Arthur feel anxious. That was two weeks on a boat full of treacherous men who had no better option than to flee to Storm Island to sell their swords. He got the feeling that this voyage could last a very long time.

After a lacking breakfast, a bollocking from Berhorn and an hour or so running errands, Arthur returned to the the sleeping cabin. He found it empty, bar Alfred, who was still lounged on his hammock, sharpening his sword with a whetstone.

Arthur sat down next to him.

“Tell me everything you know about Storm Island.”

“Everything I know?” Alfred chortled, “That might take a while. I’m a Storm Islander myself. Grew up there.”

“How did you end up enlisting for the Sons of Tarquin in Seifukumi if you grew up on Storm Island?”

Alfred smiled knowingly.

“That’s a story for another day. You want to know about Storm Island, eh?” Arthur nodded.

“You tell me what you know first,” continued Alfred, “then I’ll fill you in.”

“Well, I um… I know that the Elkspear family reign in the North, and the Vostyren family reign in the South. They co-exist peacefully, I think, since the Alliance they signed at Tiger Gate.”

Alfred smiled. “Go on.”

“Long ago, it’s said that Storm Island was split into hundreds and hundreds of kingdoms in the North, and one mighty kingdom to the South, separated by the Frontier Mountains. Then Tarquin Stormhand-”

“Stormbrand,” corrected Alfred.

“Oh, right. Then Tarquin Stormbrand landed at Højborg, more than a century before the alliance, and united the North.”

Arthur screwed up his face, trying to remember. Alfred smiled.

“I can finish your story. One hundred and forty-two years after Tarquin Stormbrand’s landing, and a year before the alliance, Tarquin Aergursturm, the fourth Tarquin, decided to invade the South, taking a huge army through the Frontier Mountains in the middle of Winter.

“Tarquin lost about half of his men in the mountains, and all the rest were starving and frozen when they arrived at Tiger Gate. King Moses Vorstyren simply opened the gate. The whole Northern host took the bait and charged through the gate, only to run straight into a huge, well-supplied Southern army. They were torn apart. Samyll Elkspear, who was Lord of Aumont at the time, proclaimed himself King of the North, rode down to Tiger Gate, and signed an Alliance Treaty with King Moses. No-one complained. The North are soft like that.”

He laughed. “But enough about history. What do you know about what’s going on right now?”

Arthur thought for a moment. He knew precious little.

“Melchior Vorstyren is the King of the South.”

Alfred nodded, smiling.

“Sebastyan Elkspear was the King of the North, but he died recently,” continued Arthur, “and his son took the throne. I can’t remember his name.”

“Godric Elkspear,” said Alfred, “he thinks he’s the greatest and most glorious king since the dawn of time, because he’s got a handsome face and he’s good with a sword. And what the arrogant little bastard doesn’t realise-”

He was cut off by the cabin door swinging open. Stood there was Horace Berhorn, wearing his dreadful, ever-present grin.

“A’right fellas, get your arses up on deck,” he said, “there’s work to be done. Up up!” He laughed, and dissappeared back through the doorway.

Alfred turned to Arthur, a sly smile on his face.

“My point is, Godric Elkspear is about to realise that being a king isn’t all fun and games. Storm Island is a treacherous place, and Godric is no Sebastyan the Wise. There’s a lot headed towards him, even as we speak.”

The two of them went up to the deck to scrub wood and tend to sails.

 


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