Friday, January 14, 2022

Free Fiction Friday: The Tempest

 


With a will of iron and a taste for adventure, Captain Moriah Kayne sails the high seas trading in precious goods. When she offers passage to a merchant and his magic-wielding niece, and then has a run in with a band of pirates—including a man from her past—she's truly caught in the middle of a tempest!

The Tempest by author Shaun Kilgore is free on this website for one week only. The story is also available as an eBook through various online retailers here

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The Tempest
by Shaun Kilgore

 

 The winds buffeted the ship as it plied the narrow spaces between the chain of islands. The rigging was close-hauled, forcing the crew to make last minute adjustments to the sails just so they wouldn’t collide with the rocky specks of land. Just behind the helm, a tall, imposing woman stood solidly while the deck gently tilted back and forth. Arms crossed, she had a stern but shrewd look on her tanned face. She wore breeches like a man and a loose, flowing shirt that was cinched closed by a snug vest that pushed her chest up. The woman had a wild mane of ink black hair that flowed in the breeze and eyes like sparkling emeralds.

“Adjust the heading by twenty degrees, north by northeast, Valan.” She barked the order and the hulking sailor manning the helm obeyed.

“Aye, Captain. South by southeast.”

The woman, Captain Moriah Kayne, nodded her approval. As he turned the wheel, she felt the Windchaser, her ship, respond. The canvas momentarily fluttered before they caught the fresh winds and bulged out and strained against the rigging. She could amost sense the slight change in speed in her bones. She breathed in the air and sighed contentedly. Moriah felt so alive at sea.

She and her crew had been skirting the archipelago for two days now, charting a cautious course lest the Windchaser’s hull took damage off an unseen reef or outcropping of stone jutting off one of the smaller islets. As of that morning though, she’d finally given way to the demands of her passenger, a wealth merchant impatient to arrive at their destination. Ever since Marick Averos had come aboard with his niece at the last port, the man had been rattling on about his business’s importance to the region. He took every opportunity to remind her. At the spare dinners she’d given her passengers the courtesy of dining with here in her quarters. His niece, Natala, seemed the opposite of her bloviating uncle, hardly saying five words together at the table. Just after Moriah had dressed that morning and left her cabin, Averos cornered her in the hall and implored Moriah to make better time. After all, there were appointments in the port of Rothchild that must be kept, he’d said. Finally, she’d decided the risks were worth the gain. It also helped that Averos was the wealthy sort and he more than willing to pay whatever was necessary for the expedited journey. To Moriah’s mind, the thought of full coffers was a pleasant one.

She glanced from Valan to the various members of her crew visible from her position. Most were either at work across the Windchaser’s deck or aloft in the rigging. They had proven more than capable over the last few months. Moriah had faith in them. They been through tougher spots in the past.

She smirked. “Very tough spots sometimes,” she whispered.

Moriah’s eyes left the ship and looked heavenward above the choppy seas.  The skies were dotted with wispy clouds and the winds were steady. It was a fine day. Perfect, almost. Not a storm cloud to be seen. There should be no issues meeting Averos’s demands. She mused over what improvements should could make to the Windchaser with they were like to receive from the latest cargo deliver and the merchant’s passage. But, Moriah suddenly felt a familiar itch between her shoulder blades. It was a feeling—an intuition maybe—but something the seasoned captain had learned to pay heed to over the years. The hair on the back of her neck stood up. Moriah was immediately on her guard.

“Keep your eyes open, Valan.”

The sailor knuckled his forehead but gave her a searching look. “Think there’s trouble brewing, Captain?” He scanned the sea around them.

Vigilance might make all the difference, she thought. Still, Moriah forced herself shrug. “I don’t. Just be wary, Valan. I’ve got a feeling. Might be nothing at all. But still…”

“I follow,” said Valan. “Been around you long enough to know that your feelings often pan out.

Moriah smirked again. “That’s why I made you first mate, Valan. You’re smarter than you look.”

Valan chuckled, rubbing his big hand across his pale blonde beard. “Aye, Captain. I’m not one to disagree but come now. Look at this face. I’ve had no complaints from the ladies when we’ve been ashore.”

Moriah shook her heard. “Of course not. You pay the ladies for their… compliments.”

“Hmm. Fair point,” replied Valan, ignoring Moriah’s sly grin.

The Windchaser sailed on through the islets for a better part of the day. Moriah’s earlier concerns started to seem just over-precaution. They reached the last of the islands in the archipelago, the largest of the lot, in fact. Some were almost proper islands with small, pebbly beaches, but most were not much else besides tall crags that rose from sea.

As the Windchaser neared one of the larger islands, Moriah felt a cold chill surge through her that made her skin prickle. She stood up straighter. The ship’s course brought it up close to the landmass so that its jagged shadow fell across them. There was nothing noticably wrong. Nothing to explain her intuition’s cries. Moriah could barely contain her frustration.

Valan piloted the Windchaser around the island, slowly rounding its rugged coastline. Moriah waited with baited breath, her eyes scanning the seascape for anything that seemed out of the ordinary. Her hands were clenched at her sides. The cold prickling sensation was becoming a burning irritation on her skin.

“Look!”

The cry of the crewman aloft jerked her head upward. The woman, Elayna, jabbed eastward just as the ship came around and entered a small harbor.

Moriah couldn’t see from her vantage point. It took several moments. Then she saw it. Another ship was sailing straight at them, twice again the size of the Windchaser. On its main mast a black banner flapped in the wind. It was emblazoned with a white X.

Valan growled low in his throat. “Pirates, Captain Kayne. Bloody pirates!”

“Damn it,” shouted Moriah. “I just new it!”

Yet she wasn’t particular happy for her intuitions to be proven correct.

 ***

The pirate vessel was surging at them at full sail, clearly trying to intercept the Windchaser before it could alter course and flee. Moriah weighed the options, did some mental calculations about the other vessel. While they could have outmaneuvered in the open sea, they didn’t have the time get out of the mouth of the harbor.

Moriah cursed. “They must have sighted us farther out and waited to ambush.”

“Do we flee?” Her first mate looked ready to do just that. His icy blue eyes searched her face.

Moriah slowly shook her head and dropped her gaze to the deck. “No, old friend. It’s far too late for that. They’ve got us. There’s no way we can outrun them at this point.” She squinted and caught sight of the ship’s armaments. “Besides if we tried, they would blast us out of the water with those cannons.”

Valan held his hand above his eyes and stared, cursing silently. “Twenty guns or better, I think.”

“Aye. Likely a good guess,” said Moriah. “Certainly looks the right size to support such a compliment.”

As the ship came closer, she could make out the figures moving about on deck. It was twice the size of the Windchaser with a blunter, thick hull that looked like it could take a beating. The sails were larger, the rigging more elaborate. The distance between them closed until the other ship was moving alongside them. Moriah got her first look at the port side. There were indeed, twenty cannons aimed right at them. She also saw the name of the vessel painted in white letters: The Black Devil.

Suddenly, a loud indignant voice rose from the deck below. One she had grown far too familiar lately. Moriah gritted her teeth. It was Averos. “What is the meaning of this? Pirates, you say. Bah! I cannot believe it. Make way, make way,” he bellowed. “Where is Captain Kayne?” There was an exchange she couldn’t make out. Then the merchant said, “Well, let’s just see what she says about that.”

Averos grunted then clambered up to the top deck and planted himself a few feet from Moriah. “Ah there you are, Captain Kayne. What is all this talk of pirates? I must say I’m very put out by the notion. I told you what sort of hurry I am in to arrive in Bellandor.” She caught the angry look Valan threw at the pompous merchant, but Averos didn’t seem to notice. “Is it true then, Captain Kayne?”

“Bloody fool,” Valan muttered.

Annoyed, Moriah jabbed her finger towards the other ship now coming alongside the Windchaser. “See for yourself, Master Averos!”

The fool gasped. His eyes bulged out of his fleshy cheeks. He seemed to see the looming pirate vessel for the first time. “Oh, my good heavens. What do we do, Captain? You do plan to repel, don’t you? My dear… niece… cannot fall into the hands of such devils.”

Moriah started laughing. “Are you mad? Repel them? We barely have the men to fend them off let alone the weapons. No, Master Averos. We surrender and pray that they just take our money and cargo and leave our skins intact. You should get below decks.”

The color drained from Marick Averos’s face. His voice was small and pinched. The man seemed to shrink into himself. “I… well… yes… I see now.”

The Black Devil was keeping pace with the Windchaser, blocking any attempts to change their course. A voice boomed from the railing above. “Ahoy! Drop your anchor or we’ll fill your hull with iron!”

Moriah looked up and saw a band of the marauders glaring down at them.

Another voice shouted, “If you follow our orders, none of you will be harmed! You have my word!”

That voice? That insufferable grin? Moriah glared up at him and cursed again. She did know him. Her anger rose and she had to stop from grabbing the dagger she wore at her hip.

“Ah, I thought it was the Windchaser. How have you been, Moriah? It has been a long time!”

“Damn you, Elric! Damn you to the depths. How dare you come to me now and in this way, after all this time? And on a bloody pirate vessel like the Black Devil?”

“It’s nice to see you too,” Elric called back. He seemed to ignore her tone and decided to be playful.

Typical Elric, Moriah thought.

“It’s not as though I did it on purpose, my dear. The Black Devil’s mine now. I won it fair and square and now I’m a captain of my own ship. Just like I always wanted. You remember that don’t you?” He held out his arms, a pistol dangling in one hand. “But, putting that aside for now, my men and I do have a business to run after all and, well, we cannot afford to let go of such a valuable prize as a trade ship—especially one as lovely as the Windchaser.”

Moriah snorted. “Save the flattery, Elric. I don’t want to hear it. Business, you say? And a captain? Ha! That’s hilarious.” Her voice was dripped with scorn. “You’re just a bunch of mangy pirates.” She pointed at the other men surrounding Elric. “Just common thieves and nothing more. You lot should all be hanged from the yard arm.”

Elric gasped dramatically, pressing his hand against his chest just above his heart. “I’m hurt, Moriah. Truly I am.” Again, the bloody grin.

The other pirates cackled.

“Do you think it wise to antagonize him, Captain?”

Moriah’s head twisted around. Averos was standing there. “Silence! Didn’t I tell you to go below!” She closed her eyes to compose herself. Moriah was letting her emotions get the best of her—her feelings for Elric exposed like they were brand new. “I know just how to talk to this… this traitor.”

The grin slipped but returned. “Moriah, might I come aboard and settle our business,” Elric called down.

There really were no other options. Much as she wanted to skewer the bastard on her blade, she nodded in defeat. “Yes! By all means, Captain Bellings, come aboard! I’ll play along—for now.”

 ***

Averos reached out and seized Moriah’s arm. She jerked it away, ready to scream at the man for his continued disobedience, but then frowned when she got a closer look his face. Averos was shaking and his eyes were wide with fear. “Please, Captain Kayne. You cannot let these pirates have what I’ve brought aboard. It is of inestimable value, and, in truth, it may be dangerous if it should fall into wrong Kayne.”

“Dangerous? What are you talking about, Master Averos? You brought no cargo aboard. You paid for passage for yourself and your niece and nothing more, if I’m not mistaken. Surely any fancy baubles you and the girl brought aboard in your luggage can be replaced. You’re certainly not short on funds to purchase them. And the only danger I can see if you refuse to give these men what they want.”

Averos shook his head. “No, no. It is dangerous, Captain Kayne. She is dangerous! What I mean to say is—” His words were cut off by Elric’s arrival. The man had climbed down a ladder to reach the Windchaser’s deck.

He smiled as he approached, sparing a moment’s attention for Marick Averos who retreated from the top deck, pleading silently as he fled. Six more pirates accompanied Elric to the Windchaser, each armed with swords and pistols, their grim expressions bearing assurances that they were more than willing to use them.

He stopped a few paces away, his gaze direct. “Moriah. If you could retrieve a copy of the manifest and assure me that your crew and passengers will cooperate, this should be a simple matter and we’ll be on our way before you know it.” There was a slight catch in his voice as his eyes locked with hers. Moriah felt her throat tighten but ground her teeth and hardened her face.

“If you insist. Valan? Go to my cabin and retrieve the manifest for our guests.”

Valan saluted. “Aye, Captain.”

Moriah watched him go then turned all of her anger on Elric. “How dare you do this! After what happened… after what we had.” Tears gathered at the corners of her eyes. “You betrayed me then… and you betray me again. I hope it’s worth it, Elric.”

The man’s earlier bravado faded for a moment. “I… I… it’s more complicated than that and you know it. Moriah, this is what I must do to survive.”

“No, Elric. It is what you choose to do. You could have stayed… with me.”

Elric grinned but spoke softer. “It’s a wonderful dream, Moriah. But one I fear is lost forever.” His voice grew louder again. “This is the reality now. I am Captain Martax of the dreadship, Black Devil.” He snapped orders to his crew. “Quickly. I want three of you to start gathering up the other valuables while we wait for the manifest. Don’t do any harm unless you’re forced. Is that understood?”

The men nodded. “Aye, Captain.” They set off across the deck.

Valan returned just the pirates left, the rolled patchment that contained the ship’s manifest held carefully in his hand. He came up next Moriah and Kayneed her document. “Thank you, Valan.”

Valan nodded, giving Elric a dark frown before stepping back without saying a word. Moriah eyed him for a moment, then unfurled the parchment and glanced over the neat columns of precise handwriting. The cargo was small but still costly. It would be a terrible loss. She would be lucky if her trade business could recover from such a financial disaster no matter how generous Averos offer had been. She brushed angry tears out of her eyes before they could slide down her cheeks. Moriah glare but shoved the manifest towards Elric.

“Take it! Damn you, Elric.”

Just as he was about to reply, a shrill scream rose.

“What the devil…?”

Moriah came to the railing just as a figure burst from the door that led below decks. It was the other passenger, Averos’s niece, Natala. The dark-haired girl was followed by one of the pirates. She was clutching something protectively in her Kaynes. Averos himself appeared next, heaving for breath. He attempted to stand between them.

“Stop! Don’t try to take it from her! Please, stop!”

Elric came up beside Moriah. “What’s happening? Didn’t I say no problems?”

Below them, Natala screamed again as she reached the railing. She spun around and faced the pirate, who was advancing with his pistol pointed at the the girl. Averos tried to squeeze past, but other man waved him back.

“Please! You don’t undertand. She can’t control herself!”

A cold chill went through Moriah’s body then her skin was tingling. No one was reacting the same way. Below on the lower deck, Natala looked up, so her face caught the sunlight, revealing the pained expression and the sheen of sweat that covered it. Slowly Atali lifted her hand, and the light revealed a small, shiny object cupped in the palm.

The next moment, the deck of the Windchaser trembled.

Elric gave Moriah a searching look. “What was that?”

Moriah had a very bad feeling.  She watched Natala. Her face grew slack—and the wind begin to blow, and the skies filled with dark storm clouds that churned round and round, forming a enormous spiral that circled both ships.

“This isn’t good,” Moriah said.

“What do you mean,” asked Elric.

She pointed to the clouds and to the winds that battered the sails of the Windchaser and the Black Devil.

“Don’t you get it?”

“What, Moriah?”

“Sorcery, Elric! She’s using bloody magic!”

 ***

The winds grew stronger and both ships were pounded by the now turbulent sea. The waves struck them and shoved them against each other with a sickening crunch. Moriah fought to keep her footing. Elric was there to steady her, his fingers lingering a moment. Then he took a step back.

The winds wailed and frothing waters flooded the Windchaser’s deck. The sails flapped as lines snapped and the rigging groaned under the onslaught. The Black Devil was faring far, far worse. The wind and waves seemed to be dragging its onto its side as a great whirlpool took shape around them both. The Windchaser was pulled in but remained on the edge as the seas roiled. The helm was spinning freely, and everyone was struggling not to get swept overboard. They were at the mercy of this unnatural storm.

After a time—how long Moriah did not know—she felt someone touch her. Over the keening roar of the storm, she could barely make out what Elric was saying. Moriah strained, trying to catch a glimpse of Natala but the water stung her eyes terribly. For some minutes she just clung to the rail. Elric was not far away straining hold on too. Up and down the ship pitched as it was hurled around the whirlpool in the midst of the tempest. All thoughts but one was ripped away: survive.

Debris was crashing down around her. Moriah looked up just as a large piece of rigging came right at her. She had no time to react. It struck her hard, tossing her into the air as it swung out away from the ship. She screamed but her voice was lost in the storm. Seconds later, she flew free and hit the water. The impact stunned Moriah and she slipped beneath the waves. Her body rolled and plunged into the depths as the storm continued above her. She tried to claw her way to the surface, but the current was too strong, and she was weakening by the moment. Her heart was thundering with panic even as her lungs burned with the need to breathe.

Suddenly she broke the surface, gasping for breath while she tried to get her bearings. She could see nothing in the darkened seas. She treaded water just trying to stay above the surface, but she was soon struggling. Moriah realized it wouldn’t be long now before she slipped away.

A bolt of lightning lit up the sky above her, revealing a dark shape towering over her. It took Moriah a moment to realize it was a ship. The thunder rumbled above her, and another flash showed her it was the Windchaser. She extended her arm.

“Help! I’m here!” Her throat was hoarse from salt water. She couldn’t tell if her voice carried. Her strength was failing, her head throbbing and mind buzzing.

“Moriah!”

It was Elric’s voice, Moriah realized. The next moment, she slipped below the water again, and sank into the deep where the darkness closed in around her.

***

Moriah awoke with a start. Her blurry vision took a moment to resolve itself. She realized where she was: her cabin aboard the Windchaser. She looked down at herself. All seemed sound and intact. No broken bones. She was a mass of bruises and sore muscles but otherwise fine.

“Ah, you’re awake.”

Moriah blinked. There, sitting on a bench next to her bunk, was Elric. His brown hair was partially covered with a hasty bandage, but he brandished that infuriating smile of his.

“I’m glad. I was worried when I pulled you out of the water.”

“You… you saved me,” said Moriah slowly.

Elric bowed his head, not meeting her gaze. He let out a long sigh.

“Yes.” He stood up and came to kneel beside her. His eyes were red and watery. “I was terrified, Moriah. The thought that I might lose you forever was unbearable.” He reached out and took her hand. She didn’t shove it away. Elric was shaking his head. “I am so sorry. Sorry for everything. Sorry for the past and for the present too. I was such a fool to leave. I didn’t trust you, Moriah. I didn’t trust anyone. The only thing that matter was my dream of having my own ship to sail my own way. I was greedy and that nearly destroyed me. Please forgive me for that.”

The words were like a strike to the face. But, Moriah, really believed him. All of the pain of their parting, the betrayal, it came rushing back to her—and she was angry all over again. Yet fate had brought them back to one another. Maybe it was one more chance to set things right.

Moriah’s eyes flooded with tears. She reached out and clutched Elric’s hand. “I... I… forgive you.”

Elric smiled and slumped a little in relief. He looked at her again, his blue eyes flashing. “I’m so glad you do.”

Moriah’s attention shifted. “What about your ship?”

“It’s gone. The storm took her and all aboard. Three of the six that came with me survived the storm.”

“I’m sorry.”

Elric shrugged.

There was a knock at the door.

“Come,” said Moriah.

Valan stepped inside. “Captain?”

Moriah’s face split in a happy grin. “You made it through, Valan. Thank the gods.”

“Aye, Captain.” Valan knuckled his forehead.

Another thing occurred to Moriah. “What of Averos and his niece?”

“They are resting in their cabin.”

Moriah let out a shaky breath. “The sooner we get those two off my ship, the better. How bad is the damage to the Windchaser?”

“Surprisingly enough, it’s minimal,” said Valan. “We need about a day to make repairs to the rigging, and we’ll be ready to depart.”

“Good. Thank you, Valan.”

The crewman left and Moriah looked at Elric. “Want to join my crew?”

Elric smirked. “Yes, I think I might.”

Moriah nodded. “Good. Let’s talk about that… and maybe a few other things.”

“Aye, Captain,” said Elric.

Moriah smirked. “You know, I like the sound of that. Especially, coming from you.”

“I thought you might,” Elric replied.


Copyright © 2022 Shaun Kilgore
Cover art copyright Jonnydrv/Dreamstime.com
Cover design copyright © 2022 Founders House Publishing, LLC

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