Dark Tides III

UP: Drachenfels & Europa

   Since the ferocious attack of Skara Brae, Grarg had steered his fleet southwards and ransacked Jhelom before coming around the southernmost tip of Britannia’s mainland and turning his guns on Trinsic. Knowing that the military would fully expect his next port of call to be Britain, the ships had turned about and once again had sailed on the southerly winds, towards the distant island of Serpent’s Hold.

A storm was brewing, harsh biting winds whipped across the mountainous seas, and ropes and rigging groaned as the ships were relentlessly pounded by the elements. “The gods are giving us a warm welcome!” Grarg’s voice boomed. His men scarce noticed his voice, as they struggled to keep their vessels afloat, but onwards the fleet ploughed towards Serpent’s Hold. “I’ll be damned if a drop of rain and a brisk breeze will beat me” Grarg muttered as he staggered below deck, struggling to stay upright as the Buzzard’s deck swayed beneath his feet.

It was late afternoon, but the thick storm clouds boiled dark blue above them, and darkness descended as if it was nightfall. “Land ho!” A loud cry came from the knotted rigging high above the deck. Grarg stumbled out from his cabin and clambered up the short ladder. The rain lashed across his face as he held a gold spyglass to one of his beady eyes. “Aha!” He exclaimed, as he saw the faint glow of a thousand candles signalling the island ahead.

“Furl the main-sails,” He cried, and his men obediently scurried to their positions, dragging the mighty sails down to the decks before lashing them into place with ropes. All the ships in the fleet copied this movement. He was an accomplished sailor, for through years of plundering the high seas he had learned much of the ancient art. He knew the ships were less obvious with their main sails withdrawn, and the tide would push the fleet slowly closer towards Serpent Holds shores. This would give them time to prepare their attack, stir gunpowder and prepare the heavy cannon balls for loading. The cannons were wheeled slowly into position, each mammoth gun barrel requiring twenty men to manoeuvre. The pig fat used to grease the weapons filled the air with its thick stench, as the fierce winds and rain continued to test the crew’s endurance.

A slight thump at the Buzzard’s side caught Grarg’s attention, he hurled down the spyglass and strode towards the source of the noise. A grappling hook almost impaled him as it swung up and latched to the side of his ship. Grarg drew a large bronze dagger, but immediately sheathed the weapon when he recognised the chubby hand over laden with gold that clamped to the ships railing. The huge man swung his body over the edge and stood tall on the Buzzard’s decks.

“Varliin!” Grarg shouted before embracing the man, his next in command. “Good to see ya me old huntin’ partner.” Varliin’s thick accent was undecipherable to all save those who knew him well.

“Grarg. Were drifting in.”

“Aye, it’ll give us time. No messin’ around this time, we’ll be broadside their defences before were even in range of their guns.”

“Aye, but should they know we are arriving, we will be floating dead.”

Grarg had considered this scenario, should the military have assembled a mass of war ships then they would be exposed without their mainsails, meaning they would have to bear the full brunt of the enemy’s cannons.

“Aye, but do you think they would allow us to come within range, knowing the damage we can inflict with just one volley of iron?”

Varliin pondered for a moment, before nodding his approval.

“Just testin’ me ol’ beauty!” He said, swinging a huge fist into Grarg’s shoulder that almost sent him to the decks.

Grarg grinned wide as Varliin lowered himself back to the rowboat before pulling off back towards his own galleon. Only a man like Varliin would dare to row on these violent tides without fear of being swept away. It was said he was as strong as an ox, and Grarg could think of no better man to have as his second in command.

Reaching high above him Grarg clamped his fingers around the flickering flame in a hanging lantern. The other ships quickly began to extinguish their lights too, and before long the entire fleet was cloaked in darkness. A silent but deadly horde slowly descended upon Serpent’s Hold.

Grarg wanted the first wave of cannon fire to occur almost simultaneously from all his ships, so all awaited his signal.

As his lantern was lit and raised, a deafening orchestra of gunfire echoed around the huge stone walls of Serpent’s Hold. A moment later the heavy iron balls drove home, and the walls splintered before crashing into the frothing seas below. People could be seen scurrying through the blazing streets in wild panic, as the second volley of hot iron rained down upon them. Already the galleons were lowering rowboats full of bloodthirsty pirates to the sea below, and streams of these tiny vessels coiled towards the shoreline. Another deafening blast of gunfire sent ears ringing, and the deadly projectiles crumpled shops and homes previously concealed by the felled outer walls.

Serpent’s Hold was being crushed by a fist of iron.

Hordes of bloodthirsty pirates ran berserk through the streets, hacking through the few men who took up arms in a futile attempt to hold back the attackers. Soon the island was ablaze, and vast plumes of dark smoke shrouded the skies with darkness.

Grarg had entrusted Plass Darakor, one of his most fearsome fighters, with the duty of leading the onslaught onshore. He would leave a number of his men to hold the island while Varliin and Grarg retreated to stash the boatloads of merchandise plundered from Serpent’s Hold.

Even as the fleet sailed away the slaughter continued. Plass would leave no stone unturned as each home was cruelly ransacked.

Plass was a huge man. His thick beard and wild hair were braided with the finger bones of many a duel victim, and a multitude of battle scars painted ghastly patterns upon his skin.

“Get that bitch!” He shouted, pointing towards a nearby doorway where he saw an attractive female cowering in shock. His two personal guards scurried towards her.

No sooner had they left his side a platemail glove seized him from behind, clenching his throat in a death grip that even his awesome strength could not release. Plass quickly lost consciousness.

* * *

“Good morrow sire!” the guard said as he raised his halberd to let the sergeant pass.

Sergeant Hammersmith nodded approvingly as he walked by, before stopping outside one of the heavy iron cages that lined the corridor.

“Is this the one?” He said, pointing to the massive man imprisoned within.

“Aye, don’t put your fingers too close, he’s a biter.” The guard grinned toothlessly, but his face hardened when the sergeant ignored his jest.

Hammersmith drew a heavy cutlass from its sheath. The sharp blade glistened in the candle-light as he carefully slid it between the cage bars and prodded the forehead of the prisoner with the sharp point.

“Name?” Hammersmith asked, but there came no response. He pushed the sword harder until blood began to trickle down the captives face. The prisoner remained silent and motionless.

“Plass, don’t know his last name” The guard said.

“I was asking the captive.”

“Aye, sorry sire.” The guard said as he uncomfortably shuffled away to stand in the bright daylight outside the darkened tunnel.

Try as he may, Hammersmith could not get the prisoner to acknowledge any of his questions, and the sergeant would have sworn the man was already dead had he not seen his chest moving as he breathed. Once again the man had frustrated him with his lack of cooperation, and Hammersmith knew that the next morrow he would be hanged and take all of his vital knowledge to the grave.

He strode out of the tunnel, nodded at the guard, and made his way back to his office.

Hammersmith’s tiny office was located alongside the Broken Arrow Inn, and the Inn’s sturdy walls had saved his small building from the relentless cannon fire.

The attack had ended after a few days struggle, finally the pirates had been overpowered as fighters from throughout the realm had converged on the island to save it. One of the few remaining survivors was this man, of whom they knew nothing, for he would not talk. They had found a map with markings on it, but believing it to be of little use Hammersmith had locked it within a chest he kept carefully concealed beneath his desk.

Hammersmith sat down and pored over the documents before him. The pirates were too organised now, the leaders of this hellish fleet needed to be brought to justice or the whole realm could be in danger.

From the Town Cryer - The Journal of Ultima Online