The woman, Elayna, jabbed eastward just as the ship came around

Tempest Tossed

1

The winds buffeted the ship as it plied the narrow spaces between the chain of islets. The rigging was close-hauled, wildly 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 side to side. Arms crossed, she had a stern but shrewd look on her weathered 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 reddish blonde hair that flowed in the breeze and eyes like sparkling emeralds.

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

“Aye, Captain. North by northeast.

The woman, Capitain Mariah Hand, nodded her approval.

They had been skirting the archipelago for two days and she’d finally given way to the demands of her passengers to make better time. After all, there were appointments in the port of Rothchild that must be kept. Mariah decided the risks were worth the gain. Her passengers were the wealthy sort and the thought of full coffers was a pleasant one.

She glanced from Venik to the crew, either at work across the Fairweather’s deck or aloft in the rigging. Mariah had faith in them. They been through tougher spots in the past. She craned her neck up. The skies were dotted with wispy clouds and the winds were steady. It was a fine day. Not a storm cloud to be seen.

But, Mariah 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. Mariah was on her guard.

“Keep your eyes open, Venik.”

The sailor knuckled his forehead, but gave her a searching look. “Think there’s trouble brewing, Captain?”

Vigilance might make all the difference, she thought. Mariah shrugged. “Just be wary, Venik. Got a feeling. Might be nothing at all. But still…”

“I follow,” said Venik.

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

As the Fairweather neared one the larger islands, Mariah got a cold chill that prickled her skin. She stood up straighter. The ship’s course brought it up close to the landmass so that it’s jagged shadow fell across them. There was nothing noticably wrong. Nothing to explain her intuition’s cry.

Venik piloted the Fairweather around the island, slowly rounding its coastline. Mariah waited with baited breath. Her hands were clenched. The cold prickling was beginning to burn 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. Another ship was sailing straight at them, twice again the size of the Fairweather. On its main mast a black banner flapped in the wind. It was emblazoned with a white X.

Venik gaped. “Pirates, Captain Hand. Bloody pirates!”

“Damn,” said Mariah. “I knew it!”

Produced by Eugenio Zorrilla.

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