Corsairs

 

Chapter 19

Between Corsairs and Sirens

 

As soon as we were out of sight of Abbas Point we hoisted our black sails. That did slow us down a bit, but made the timing of our entrance into the strait close to perfect. I took the crows nest, Jean Luc and the Captain were alert on deck, while Hawk was at the wheel. The sun went down, we closed all the lanterns and all was quiet and dark… Fortuna only made the sounds any natural ship makes, and they sounded unbelievably loud, when everything else was hushed. We passed several lanterns indicating ships in the vicinity, but none took any heed of us. Around midnight we passed the fort – we tiptoed passed its looming shadow and held our breaths as we passed a hundred masts in their harbour. Again no one noticed us at all. In the third hour after midnight I spotted lateen sails aft. In the following hours they seemed steady on our tail. The sun rose early and revealed water colored yellow by sand.

 

We saw several coastal vesels on starboard – presumably fishermen. We also saw several larger ships that occasionally gave chase then gave up. At sunset we were near the Pillars of Damas. We lit a lantern, stayed a while on course, then turned it down and changed course to throw off potential persuers. We were now heading straight for the Strait of Dolphins. Suddenly we heard sounds of cannons ahead coming from a dhow lying between us and the coast. It was firing upon a smaller dhow. We hesitated a moment, not wishing any trouble, when suddenly the sound of women screaming cut through the night air. Corsairs was attacking the smaller dhow which had lots of women and children on board. The corsairs didn’t stand much of a chance against us. Once they were all taken care of, the gratefull women told us that their town was under siege by a hoarde of corsairs, and that they alone had manage to escape. They promised us that if we relieved them of their enemy, they would in return show us the treacherous route through the Strait of Dolphins. My guess is, that even if they had only offered us three saltet herrings, the Captain would still have agreed to help them. Not only is he an honorably sort of man, but he also has an unsatiable need to kill as many corsairs as he possibly can.

 

The town in question was a fishermanstown, build in the remains of a once empirical front post. Supposedly there were about 200 corsairs on the landside of the town and 4 ships in the harbour was blocking all comings and goings (one of which we had already sunk). They had mounted canons outside the town and were shooting the citywall to pieces. Hiding in the dark we entered the harbour and shot the three remaining dhows to smithereens.

 

The citizens were first a little hesitant to trust us, but when we explained ourselves they became quite extatic. Our first objective would be to take the enemy's cannons, so they could not go on firing on the citywall – and quite a wall that! Build in the time of the empire it was tall (about 4 meters) and about a meter and a half thick! They certainly knew how to build things in those days!

 

Well, I’ll not bore you with details of landbattles – in short I’ll tell you this; we destroyed the cannons, slaughtered the men camping around them (40-50 men), returned to the city and waited for their counterattack, which came in due time. They must not have been used to people fighting back - I was not at all impressed by neither their tactics nor their fighting skills. They seemed confused and disorganized, and occasionally downright stupid; they kept coming trough that hole they had made in the wall, and we kept picking them down. They did manage to kill 5 of our men, and though it was a bitter loss, it wasn’t much of one considering the odds.

 

Our new friends didn’t have much to offer provisionwise, having been under siege for quite some time, but one of their elders offered to pilot us safely through the Strait of Dolphins as originally promised. Just before we entered the Strait Jean Luc spotted some flotsam in the water, somethings that looked like it had come from a carvintian ship… Another one of our competitors it seemed. Poor bastards!

 

The water in the Strait of Dolphins was nearly white from the chalk on either side of it. The water had a very low level of salt. Tiny, completely white dolphins accompanied us – it always makes me feel good, when they do that. We didn’t sail, but got hauled by fisherboats. We would have had a really hard time going this way by ourselves. I attempted making a map of the route, as we would probably have to go back this way too. Everything and everyone on board was on the quiet side. We were all tired and enjoyed this momentary chance of peace and rest.

 

At dawn we bid our friends farewell. The elder gave the Captain a polished stone on a string and told him it would bring him luck and clear sight... As far as I know the Captain valued that little piece of rubble very much, and I saw him wear it from that day forward. As you cannot be in any doubt of, I respect and honor the Captain more than any other man I’ve ever met, but he sure did have his oddities!

 

We headed further south into the riverdelta. In the evening we were back on the great deep ocean. I must say that I prefer sailing on the ocean compared to rivers and straits. Others have mentioned they prefer it that way too – mostly because my eyes seem to reflect the water around me - and yellow and white eyes just doesn’t become me very well. I can imagine. I have never seen this phenomena myself, since I don't carry a mirror about, but I know my grandfather's eyes were the same, and I’ve seen them change color lots of times. Never to white or yellow though, fortunately.

 

We had only just entered the deep ocean again, when we spotted a xebec behind us! It was Omar Astyrk's ‘Breathe of Allah’! He had been waiting for us to emerge from the riverdelta. All three lateensails were up, and she was coming our way fast! We set all our sails and tried to fly from her. In my monocular I could see strange doings in their stern; a priest of some sort tried to magick us. It wasn’t exactly voodoo, which I’m quite familiar with, but something similar. It was like the water was holding us back, but we still kept our distance. In the late afternoon we spotted yet another lateen sail; another xebec heading our way! Jim was sent down to fetch the captain, but came back distraught; he could not wake him. He was looking odd (the Captain, not Jim - who only looks odd, when he has a sunburn, not a pretty sight!) and didn’t respond to calling and shaking. One look at him and I felt certain that he was bewitched in some manner or other. We didn’t have any time to deal with it however – we had too much on our minds. Quickly we shifted back into the positions we had had before the Captain returned; Jean Luc was once again acting captain and I was first mate again.

 

For starters we changed our course to the fastest possible speed, which was straigh towards the newcoming xebec. He lost his nerve, when he saw us coming on to him so fast, and steered away from us.

 

At sunset we sighted land on starboard and hiding behind a point we saw yet another 6 masts. I expect a fox feels the same way we did, when the hounds are set upon him. Night fell, the wind dropped and the sky was clear of clouds. We held our course and sailed as fast as we possibly could. Come dawn the ‘Breathe of Allah’ was a mere 400 meters away from us. Several masts appeared ahead of us, but they turned out to belong to smaller trading vessels and they fled at the sight of us. In the following days he came closer and closer to us. But he wasn’t our only worry; a great mass of cloud coming towards us fast from shore turned out to be a sandstorm! That was one of the most unpleasant things I have ever experienced! Sand everywhere! We were clever enough to cover and plug all of our cannons before we were hit, and we had sealed everything that needed sealing. But thouroughly unpleasant it was to get sand in ones eyes and ears and mouth, and feel it grinding at ones skin and burrow itself into ones hair! It was nighttime before the sandstorm abated, and we could start repairing damages. It had not helped us any regarding Omar however – he was closer than ever.

 

Dawn came and a very hot day began. So hot was it that the tar began to melt! Everyone were sweaty and dirty, and tempers were rising, but expertly quelled by the officers (myself included). There was about a day’s journey left before we would reach the Sea of Sirens, and Omar was drawing closer still. Jean Luc decided that we should pick the battleground ourselves, and that now was it. When he was about 150 m away from us we cut over and gave him a broadside! That certainly took him by surprise! He lost a mast on that account, and his chances of catching up with us were now gone. We resumed our course, and waved cheerfully farewell to our unwanted travelling companion. The Captain started to mumble about fog and strange creatures, but we were still unable to wake him. He tossed and turned in his bunk, but there was nothing we could do for him.

 

Hawk started complaining about how the sun wasn’t where it was supposed to be and how the compass kept acting up. He burrowed into his book on navigating and came back and explained easy as rain how it was because the Earth was round and we had crossed over on the middle… Pure nonsense if you aske me! But if that would quell his moaning, fine with me. Truth is, that the whole thing was quite odd. I didn’t wonder much about the different stars and constellations, for I had seen them change from place to place I've been, nothing odd in that. But the sun having changed position… Well, I have no logical explanation for that. Maybe Hawk is right about it after all. It just seems so strange! I mean I have seen the end of the world, where the waters boil and the seamonsters prey. I have seen the place where, if you go any further, you will fall off the world! How could that be, if the world is round?

 

The night fell, clear and moonlit. We were at the edge of the Sea of Sirens and we would wait untill morning before braving it. During the night the ocean became completely hidden by fog and mournfull sounds reached us through the night. At dawn the visibility was nil…There were more sirensinging, and I had to beat up on Jerimiah Smith, because he started panicking about it. Everyone knows that sirens can’t harm you as long as you stay cool and don’t attempt to sail near them. I have seen sirens before – down near the Vanilla Isles – and though they are a right pretty sight, they are not for sport and certainly not for pleasure. Just stay clear of them is my advice to you. I kind of like them, though they are dangerous to fools. The priestess on my childhood plantation used to tell me I had mermaid blood in my veins, that that was the reason my eyes were like they were, and why I hade such an undying need to be on water. Well, maybe that’s so. Truth is, that though I don’t fear them, I still know that sirens should not be taken lightly.

 

A gust of wind blew away the fog and now the sirens started moaning and screaming for real! The sirensong I have heard earlier were less wild, still somewhat mournfull, but prettier. This was just nasty screaming, and why they thought that would tempt any man to sail closer is beyond me! We set a few sails and sailed ever so slowly on. There was still some fog and we constantly measured the depth. Jean Luc patiently tried to explain to me how the sirens were just wind in the cliffs – he had never seen sirens or merpeople himself and refused to believe my story. I guess his explanation was less scary to him and thus more believable. I would take him to the Vanilla Isles one day, and show him true mermaids – then maybe he would believe me! Wind in the cliffs indeed!

 

The cook now turned my attention to the fact that two of our barrels of water had fouled, which put us in dire need of fresh water. We edged our way around one reef after the other, when suddenly a cry sounded from above; island ahead! A green island that just might have a supply of fresh water. Jean Luc tooke 16 men with him and a lot of empty barrels. The rest of us made minor repairs and laid back for a while.

 

Those of you lucky enough may have been to the Queens Chamber of Oddities. There you might have seen the skeleton of an impossibly big bird, known as the Stanley Bird. I will now reveal to you how the skeleton was obtained and how it got it’s name. As I was not present myself the following is what Jean Luc told me happened: They came ashore that lush and green island. Everyone knows that good drinking water would most likely be found high upon such an island where rainwater unspoiled by salt finds it’s natural bowls and barrels. They climbed up along a stream when suddenly in front of them, this big bird stood. It was huge! About 3 meters tall with a beak the lenth of a grown man’s forearm. They stopped and stared at it, and it stared back. Then it started crouching as if getting ready to jump. Jean Luc and the men soon realized that this was more a threat than the potential meal they had first thought. Before anyone could react, the bird had jumped on one of the sailors, a man named Stanley Murdoch, and had ripped his stomach to threads with its claws! They started fighting the bird, but it was too late. Stanley was dead... Moments later a second bird arrived and attacked as well. The second man to die was another able seaman, Stanley Jones – and thus the bird got its name; the first two men to be killed by it both bore the name of Stanley, so the bird is now known as the Stanley Bird… Back on Fortuna we didn’t know of this tragedy untill later. We ded see the men being attacked yet again as they were bringing the full barrels of water to the boat (they could off course not abandon their mission despite the losses they had sustained). I took a long boat and a bunch of armed men with me to shore, and we killed Stanley Birds by the handfull. That night we mourned our dead companions and had fresh poulty for dinner. One of the skeletons we boiled and saved to bring home to Her Majesty the Queen. Mostly because nobody would believe our story of a 3 meter bird if we could not provide evidence.

 

After about a week sailing through this labyrinth of reefs we were finally back in deep water – what a relief! From here on we sailed about another week southeast till we reached the Red Sea. Once on the Red Sea we set our course to due north. On the fourth day at sunset on the Red Sea we discovered how it had gotten it’s name: the sea was practically glowing red with crayfish. We scooped crayfish out of the water by the bucket. Two whole barrels were filled to the edge. Huge whales swam lazily by us and ate crayfish and more crayfish. We had crayfish for days after that; boiled, fried, mashed (that was an accident – but they tasted allright), in soups, in stews and in jambalayas.