At the moment, no one knows their names, but as the sun rises their brazen deeds and nautical skill will surely form the seed of a legend. The pirates are:
Nyali Utugelu, a Chultan shopkeeper, arsonist, riot-starter, and gunpowder junkie.
Gunter von Steenberger, a dockworker from the Ranstead League with near-mythical strength.
Imran Goldmaker, an experienced merchant and occasional pirate from the Golden Isles. Excellent with a sword.
Beatrix, a Tarraconese carpenter, engineer, and smooth talking hustler. Fairly mediocre at everything except staying alive, but that's a very useful skill.
Her crew was far from comfortable. The four assorted ne'er-do-wells hired by the late Cameron Jones had assisted initially. Then, with the aid of the four forcibly hired crewmen from the Cimmeria, they'd found the brandy stores and all got riotously drunk. Sailing a frigate with twelve crew - instead of the usual two hundred - had been difficult. Sailing it with four sober people, and two of them napping in the captain's quarter at any given time, was beyond difficult.
With the gentle breeze pushing them steadily west, all the crew needed to do was keep off the Wretched Reef, then hug the shore of the Isla de Caracol and anchor - or crash, more likely - into the Porta de Caracol. There, they hoped to sell the frigate or recruit a crew or generally celebrate their ridiculously good fortune. Their plans were a touch indistinct.
Their first day at sea was eventful. Imran and Nyali filled one of the ship's boats with supplies and rigged it to drop in case a hasty escape was required. Gunter decided to load and ready the top twelve guns; if it came to a fight, they could at least get off a handful of shots or intimidate a smaller vessel.
The crew, sobered up by a few buckets full of cold seawater, held an impromptu election for officers. Everyone dutiful, if not exactly steadily, assembled in a circle to hear nominations. The crew spoke mostly Wexlish, though a few could manage a phrase or two in Valoch or Tarraconese. By unanimous decision, Imran was elected quartermaster, as he was the only one "who could sort the figures and tell a good coin from bad."
Electing a captain proved slightly more difficult. No one could gain enough support until, stepping forward, Gunter said in heavily accented Wexlish, "You will vote for Beatrax is Captain, because she is the only one who can speak Wexlash." Once again, the vote was unanimous. Beatrix was astonished.
Later that evening, Gunter spotted three lights on the horizon. He climbed to the top of the mainmast to get a better look; three ships, in formation, in a pursuit course. Were they Wexlish ships bent on recapturing the frigate? Pirates? Marauders from another nation? With fog rolling along the small islands of the Wretched Reef, the crew had very few options. They couldn't set any additional sails. Maneuvering was next to impossible. They had at least a four hour head start, but their ship was silhouetted against the setting sun.
They decided to douse lights, hug the fog as closely as they dared, and then cut north when the light had fully faded. They hoped they could find the reef again in the morning; nobody on the ship could navigate worth a damn. Gunter thought he could find the north star, but he wasn't entirely certain. The sight of their newly elected captain peering at the horizon, arms out, muttering, "Never Eat Salted Worms" while turning slowly in a circle, did not fill the crew with confidence. Many of them decided to get drunk.
As the sun rose over the bright blue sea, Gunter, who had slept fitfully all night, managed to catch sight of the three other ships. They were far to the north, almost over the horizon, and slightly ahead of the Cimmeria. In the strong breeze, their sixth-rate frigate had every advantage. They slowly maneuvered her back towards the reef. The three ships did not pursue and vanished from sight.
Imran spotted a small fishing boat in the path of the ship. With a great deal of wailing and hooting, the party managed to steer towards the boat. They threw a tow line (with Gunter on the end of it) and forcibly brought the little boat alongside. The five fishermen inside - all members of the Cottar family - debated joining the pirates and, "Earning as much in a day's work as you would in a lifetime of catching these fish." The uncle of the four young men, his eyes flashing and his paddle-wielding arm smacking them vigorously, cursed all pirates and warned his nephews against vice and treachery. Gunter, knowing trouble when he saw it, tossed the uncle out of the boat and hired the four Cottars on as full-share pirates.
The four fishermen were a little dismayed to discover the frigate was crewed by a handful of disreputable and inexperienced people.
A few hours later, they were even more dismayed to discover the thunderstorm rolling in from the east.
"Two feet of water in the, uh, lower bit of the ship," of the recruited landsmen shouted at the newly elected captain. "Should we do something about that?"
"Yes! Yes we should," Beatrix said hastily. "Imran and Nyali, go pump!"
Frantically levering below decks, the pair heard an alarming groaning noise from the port side of the ship, as if the Cimmeria's hull was being scraped by a giant slab of raw meat. They shouted for someone to go take a look, fearing that the frigate had run aground, but when Beatrix peered over the rail all she saw was a phosphorescent gleam and a long trailing tendril in the water. "Just a sea monster, guys," she shouted, poking her head down the hatch. "Nothing to worry about."
On deck, Gunter was staring at the green-blue glow coating the masts and rigging. "Spirit fire!" he shouted, and made a sign to ward off evil. The crew, looking up at the lights, decided to flee below. Gunter tried to ward off the evil omen by throwing things at the mast. Moments later, a bolt of lightning struck the topgallant mast and shattered it. The mast tipped sideways, sail unfurled and ropes tangled. The extra strain began to tip the Cimmeria over, exposing her decks to the waves.
"Cut it loose!" Gunter shouted, then realized he was nearly the only one on deck. Swearing, he grabbed a knife and started climbing. Leigh Cottar, one of the recruited fishermen, followed him up. They frantically hacked at the rigging with more fear than skill. The wind caught the downed sail and with a snap tangled Gunter in a knot of ropes. "Cut me free, friend!" the old dockhand yelled, knowing any would-be rescuer would be in dire peril. Obedient, Leigh cut the ropes. The topgallant mast swung free, leaving Gunter behind but carrying Leigh overboard.
The toppled mast acted as a sea anchor. Though most of the rigging had been severed, it was still attached to the hull and was slowly dragging the Cimmeria over. As the ship began to roll, Imran ran on deck, sword raised to fight a sea monster. He saw the taut ropes and the fallen mast and immediately severed the ropes. Freed, the Cimmeria rolled upright in the storm-wracked sea. Leith, still entangled in the sail, was rapidly falling behind.
"Hold my pistols," Gunter roared, as he shed his armaments and dove over the side. It was suicide, but Gunter swam like a furious fish, smashing the water with his pinwheeling arms. He arrived at the sinking mast and started freeing his new friend.
"They're going to be left behind," Nyali said, after emerging from the hold to see what all the fuss was about.
"I'm sure they'll be swept onto an island. Castaways. They'll do fine," the Captain said, not at all confidently. "We'll pick them up later."
"Or they'll be swept onto a reef and shredded," Imran replied, unconcerned.
"Fuck this," Nyali shouted. "Get that gun around! Imran, steer to, uh, left. Port. That way."
The Chultan pirate, swearing louder than the thunder, ran to the nearest cannon. She grabbed a chain shot, tied a long rope to the chain with a dozen knots, and winched it hard to stern, aiming as far back as she dared. "Steady, steady!" she shouted to Imran at the wheel.
"Just hold on!" Gunter bellowed at Leith. "The ship is coming around. Are they... no."
"There's no way you can hit them at this range!" Imran yelled, not believing his eyes. "In this weather, and in this light! No way."
"Good thing I don't want to hit them," Nyali said through clenched teeth, as she squinted down the cannon's barrel. She waited for the Cimmeria to crest a wave, stepped back, and pressed the lit linstock against the touchhole. The cannon, after a moment's pause, blasted out fire and iron.
Gunter was astonished to see the cannon's flame, and even more astonished when a rope, attached to a chain and two cannonballs, splashed neatly into the rigging next to his head. He grabbed the rope with one hand and Leith with the other. A few horrible minutes later and the pair was aboard, shivering and gasping for air.
With more luck than skill, they picked a large and sandy stretch of beach on a large island and let the waves carry the frigate ashore. They could do nothing but wait for the storm to lift. Finally, in the early morning light, the wind began to die down, and the hammering rain was replaced with a slow drizzle, then a thin mist.
"This must be the Isla de Caracol," Imran said, sweeping the hills with his spyglass. "Largest island we've seen yet. All we need to do is cut across those hills and we'll be in the port in no time. Then..."
"I'm more concerned about those two ships," Beatrix said, pointing over the rail. There were indeed two small sloops anchored in the bay, almost a mile away.
"Fishermen?" Gunter asked hopefully.
"On an island of pirates, in sloops set for raiding? Yeah, sure, fishermen," Imran said.
"What are we going to do?" Nyali said, eyeing her cannons.
"Don't worry," the Captain replied, collapsing her spyglass. "I have a plan."
An hour later, the pirate crews of the Majestic and the Saint Marloon were treated to the sight of a landlubber lowering a boat from the Cimmeria's side. They watched as a lone figure in ragged clothes rowed with haste, if not with skill, across the choppy waters of the bay. Beatrix rowed her little boat onto the beach exactly between the two sloops, then staggered onto the beach.
Captains Christopher Clems and Nabila of Nyanzaru departed their respective ships with large, well-armed retinues. They more-or-less pretended to ignore the bedraggled woman on the beach, and feigned surprise at the other captain's decision to take a casual stroll at this hour of the morning. Polite greetings were exchanged over Beatrix's head.
"Now, my dear," Captain Clems said, beaming and exposing all three of his teeth, "what in the world are ye doing out here?"
Beatrix took a deep breath and spun a tale of woe, treachery, piracy, lunacy, and disaster. She'd been kidnapped by pirates when they took the frigate from under the eyes of the Wexlish governor. The pirates had squabbled, then panicked during the storm. Many of them had abandoned ship - "Aye, and she does have no boats, Clems said, eyeing the frigate". The survivors, no more than three, were badly wounded, sick, or drunk. She asked the two pirate captains for protection.
The pair looked at her, looked at the unguarded, slovenly frigate, with her sails in rags and a broken mainmast top, and decided to close in for the kill. They casually hurried back to their ships, leaving four guards to, "protect miss Beatrix" from "local unscrupulous marauders."
On board the Cimmeria, the crew had very carefully and very cautiously loaded the cannons. Those still behind gun ports were braced to fire at point-blank range. Accuracy didn't matter. Nyali had selected a spot along the Cimmeria's flank; the moment a sloop moved in, she and several other sailors would run along, set off the broadside, and then board the surviving sloop. While the sloops' crews outnumbered them four to one, the element of surprise and twelve nine-pound cannonballs fired from above at a steep angle ought to even the odds.
And so, as the two pirate sloops slowly raised anchor and slid towards the frigate, the Cimmeria's crew waited in perfect suspense, racks of muskets, pistols, and swords at the ready. When the Saint Marloon closed to firing range, pushing the Majestic against the Cimmeria's hull, Nyali roared "FIRE ALL GUNS!" in Chultan. Her intent was unmistakable. In ones and twos, with screams and fire, the Cimmeria roared to life.
The fight was over in ten minutes, though it was a hellish close thing. Gunter lead the boarding party onto the Majestic's deck, cutting off a limb or a head with every blow of his sword. Imran followed, carefully choosing his targets, an avenging angel to Gunter's furious devil. Nyali laughed and laughed, firing every weapon that came to hand at the pirates climbing the Cimmeria's side or spilling onto her deck. When the smoke cleared, the Cimmeria's crew had carried the day. The surviving pirates aboard the Majestic surrendered. Those aboard the sinking Saint Marloon also threw down their weapons and swam for safety aboard the second sloop.
On shore, the four pirates guarding Beatrix had watched the battle with great interest, entirely confident that or or both of their crews would carry the day. But when the Majestic's flag dropped into the water, they turned as one to their hostage. "Come with us, little lady," one said. "It'll be safer in the trees."
They got about a dozen paces before a cannonball, aimed by Nyali with uncanny accuracy, smashed into the group. The three surviving pirates, gore-spattered and stunned, looked at the smouldering boots of their friend. "You should probably surrender," Beatrix said casually, picking a bit of bone out of her hair. "That wasn't a fluke. Damn accurate, uh, cannoning."
The next few hours were a flurry of activity. Gunter, as impromptu bosun, more or less maintained order. The combined crews began scouring the Cimmeria for moveable valuables and supplies, slowly restocking the Majestic. The twenty-two survivors could still barely crew a frigate, but they could more than adequately crew the slim and nimble Majestic.
And secretly, unobserved by any of their newly recruited and impressed pirate followers, Nyali, Gunter, Imran, and Beatrix buried the 1,000 gold pieces they'd secretly looted from the Cimmeria's pay chest in the thin forest not far from shore.