Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Beyond the Shore: Session 9

A holiday interlude...

The sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;
The decks were like a slide, where a seaman scarce could stand;
The wind was a nor'wester, blowing squally off the sea;
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee.

They heard the surf a-roaring before the break of day;
But 'twas only with the peep of light we saw how ill we lay.
We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout,
And we gave her the maintops'l, and stood by to go about.

All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North;
All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further forth;
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.

We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide race roared;
But every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard:
So's we saw the cliffs and houses, and the breakers running high,
And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against his eye.

The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam;
The good red fires were burning bright in every 'long-shore home;
The windows sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out;
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.

The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;
For it's just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)
This day of our adversity was blessèd Christmas morn,
And the house above the coastguard's was the house where I was born.

O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My mother's silver spectacles, my father's silver hair;
And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves,
Go dancing round the china plates that stand upon the shelves.

And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;
And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessèd Christmas Day.

They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.
'All hands to loose top gallant sails,' I heard the captain call.
'By the Lord, she'll never stand it,' our first mate, Jackson, cried.
'It's the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson,' he replied.

She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new and good,
And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she understood.
As the winter's day was ending, in the entry of the night,
We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light.

And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me,
As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea;
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.

-- Robert Lewis Stevenson, Christmas at Sea


_______________________________________________________

The crew of the Red Sadness, bolstered in numbers by their recent successes, sailed on towards Rickety's Squibbs. Behind them, towed by mooring cables, drifted the Ginger Belle, manned by a Adriana, Thaduk, and a small handful of its original sailors, working to keep the sails trimmed to match the pace and heading of the Sadness.

As they sailed, Sandara and Henrye approached Captain Caddis. "Given the recent changes in the makeup of the crew and the need for martial readiness," they explained, "the crew would like to formally request that the Captain open up the ship's armory and the lockers of those "no longer with us" to make sure the present crew are properly armed and trained in case another opportunity for plunder presents itself."

"Pretty girl make gooood point," Thaduk said, "Let's bring loot to top deck for all to see. Every man who swear to Besmara to fight for plunder and brothers here on the Red Sadness get weapon."

Caddis agreed, "Also, with regards to the plunder from the captain's hold and the Ginger Belle, and any ship we take after this, every crewman, officers included, shall receive an equal share. Also, we shall always grant quarter and offer terms of surrender to any enemy we face, and all prisoners shall be treated well..."

The crew seemed greatly heartened by these shows of benevolence, and the "veterans" of the Red Sadness quickly ransacked the ship, emptying the armory, the quartermaster's stores, and the lockers of the missing crew men and hauling loads of magic items, weapons, armor, coins, booze, books, and other more mundane items up onto the deck.

"Officers get first choice," Riaris Krine, who had recently been untied and awakened insisted. Then all of the crew set about arming themselves. Caddis had all of the books and "other valuables" moved to the captain's quarters, booze moved to galley, and all general use tools and alchemical items placed in the quarter master's store.

Rounding a tall headland at the northern tip of New Caledonia revealed a hidden cove at the mouth of a wide river, its sluggish brown waters staining the waters of the blue sea like an ugly bruise. A series of docks had been built upon this estuary, with buildings concealed beneath the overhanging limbs of the dried and brown jungle beyond. A wooden watchtower stood upon the promontory of the headland, carefully concealed among the trees to provide a clandestine view of the seas.

A thick early-morning fog rolled off the river, further shrouding the small community. Caddis, standing the Sadness' prow, noticed signal flags flashing between the watchtower and the docks. Then he heard something strange, above the sound of the waves slapping against the Sadness's hull, and the echo-effect of the waves striking the Belle, was the sound of waves crashing against a third ship, in line with their two. He looked around but saw nothing.

Looking up, they saw a small single-masted longboat being run out from the docks with perhaps a half-dozen men aboard, flying the blue flag of parley. The small boat signaled for them to drop anchor, but just as the Sadness began to do so, the men on the small boat began waving their flags in a panic and back-rowing. Looking around, they saw another ship, triple-masted and roughly the size of their own appearing out of thin air of their starboard side. The ship was flying a reindeer-headed Jolly-Rodger and had run out its cannons, a full six of them to a side, and was coming into position for a full broadside.



Leopold told the crew to weigh anchor but stay on the capstan, swinging the ship around to put the Ginger Belle between them and the attacking ship. Rummy ordered the crew to man the catapult and pair of ballista they had found in the hold, while Riaris Krine and Thaduk the Sot swung the long nine into position. Meanwhile, Sandara Quinn shrouded their ship in fog and Caddis summoned a swarm of bilge spiders onto the deck of the enemy ship to distract them.

Their quick reactions worked. The Belle took the brunt of the broadside, crippling it, but allowing them to take out two of the cannons with their return fire. Leopold then ordered the crew to drop anchor, arresting their momentum and allowing the Sadness to swing in behind the enemy vessel. Caddis then set their rigging alight with a fireball cast from the staff of fire they had found in the officer's quarters.

The enemy captain, a white-bearded man in a red suit, spun the wheel and brought the flaming ship careening into the Sadness. The entire enemy crew--some fourty short white-bearded fellows in green and red striped outfits, eight massive caribou (or were they elk?), and the captain--swung over to the Sadness and engaged the crew directly.

On the poop deck, Caddis, Leopold, Rummy, Fishguts, and Riaris Krine found themselves toe-to-toe with the enemy captain and four of his reindeer companions. Leopold tagged the captain with a tanglefoot bag, gluing him in place next to the rail, and the other four rushed in to surround him. The reindeer charged, but Caddis was able to put one to sleep before they hit. One crashed into Leopold, another into Caddis, goring them badly. Rummy sidestepped the fourth, sending in plummeting over the rail. The crew, meanwhile, were busy shoving the burning enemy vessel away with boarding pikes and dealing with the swarm of diminutive, bearded pirates.

Despite the threat of the reindeer, everyone ganged up on the enemy captain, but their blows kept failing to penetrate the thick red suit he wore. Finally Fishguts struck him a ringing blow to the side of the head with his trusty frying pan. In retaliation, the captain gutted Fishguts with his hook hand, disemboweling the poor cook. Rummy and Riaris flanked the captain, swinging at him, mostly ineffectually, then dancing out of reach to avoid his deadly hook. Finally Rummy managed to land a solid stab into the captain's side, followed by a mighty blow from Riaris, her nodachi bursting into flames and setting the captain's suit alight. She took a swipe from the hook for her efforts, but Rummy finished him off with a thrust to his back.

Leopold, hurt from the reindeer attack, fled up into the rigging while Caddis put a second deer to sleep with his evil eye. The last remaining reindeer turned and charged Riaris Krine. Leopold leaped out of the rigging, landing on the reindeer's back and impaling it with Medo Avassaldor. The reindeer thrashed and bucked, but could not knock him off, and instead turned to lashing out at Riaris with its hooves and biting teeth.

Rummy and Riaris moved in and swiped at the reindeer, but, in their eagerness to avoid its hooves, their swings went wild and both struck Leopold, one after the other. The reindeer managed to sink its teeth into Rummy, dealing a grievous wound and causing the flesh around the bite to harden and take on a spiraling white and red pallor. Finally, Caddis nailed the reindeer with his last sleep spell, and Leopold finished it off. "Leave the others alive," Caddis insisted, "they'll keep longer for meat that way..."

Down on the main deck, the crew finally subdued the last of the elves, though not without cost. Sixteen of the Red Sadness's crew lay dead: Fishguts, Crimson Cog, two of the orc slaves from the Ginger Belle, and a dozen of the Belle's sailors they had taken on. Sandara, Caulky, and Rattline Rattsberger lay wounded and unconscious. To counter this, thirty-eight of the enemy sailors had been slain, and the last subdued and taken prisoner (while quarter had been offered, it had certainly not been taken).

The enemy ship was a mess, with the mast fallen in and all of the rigging burned away. They brought the Sadness alongside and the crew proceeded to raid the ship's stores, coming away with a massive pile of goods and treasures of all kinds, as well as ten functioning cannon and accompanying ammunition with which to better arm the Sadness (which made Riaris Krine very very happy). Caddis appointed Rummy as the official quartermaster and the orcish house-slaves, who were very good at book-keeping, as his assistants, and ordered them to make a thorough accounting of everything taken.

Leopold helped Sandara back to her feet and she set about performing funeral rites (and finishing off) the deceased crewmen of both ships, before tossing them into the sea. Rummy stopped her from taking Fishgut's body, claiming that he wanted to perform the rites himself.

As they looted the enemy ship, the longboat from the docks came back, now flying a white flag of surrender alongside the request for parley. A wizened old man came aboard, wide-eyed and terrified looking, and introduced himself as Rickety Hake.

Caddis quickly offered him both the Ginger Belle and the enemy ship, "The Reindeer", in exchange for his services squibbing and rechristening the Sadness (and his discretion should Captain Herrera come asking about them). Rickety agreed, and also agreed to provide some upgrades to the Sadness while he was working on it: extending the keel, adding additional space for more crew quarters and cargo, giving it a broader rudder for better handling, improved sails and rigging for increased speed, gun ports (4 per side and 2 aft) in the middle hold for the new cannons, smuggling compartments built into the bulkheads, and an extended bowsprit and figurehead (carved to your specifications) that would be reinforced to serve as a ram.

Rickety told them it would take him at least a week to retrofit the Sadness. The three ships were towed into drydock, with work scheduled to begin the next morning, and the crew were given shares of the loot and leave to explore the small settlement while they waited. Even the Cameron sisters were released from the bilges and allowed to go ashore (under guard) so that they could send messages and negotiate their ransom.

Late that night, Caddis, Leopold, and Rummy crept back aboard the Sadness. Unwilling to let their friend go, Rummy, after consulting a book titled “Demonologia Sexualis” which had been found in Peppery Longfarthing's laboratory, gathered up Fishgut's disemboweled body. Down in the bottom hold, they hung the corpse upside down, scalped it, and anointed it with gentian and tormentil. Rummy then, while chanting words that should never be heard by the ears of mortal men, cut the body in two, from groin to scalp…

Out of the cleft spilled a transparent cube-shaped mass. The thing was cold to the touch, with Ambrose’s internal organs and purple lotus flowers clearly visible floating within it, and smelled strongly of urine. It was henceforth dubbed, “Fishguts”, in honor of their departed friend.

…it is currently living in the bilges of the Red Sadness, waiting to devour anything or anyone thrown down to it.