Wind Wizard

Wind Wizard

 

It had been the perfect raid; a small, yet prosperous, town leagues away from any other. The small garrison of soldiers had no guns protecting the harbor. They had been in and out in only a few hours, their hold now full of loot.

Galax should have known it would be too good to be true. No one got that lucky. Any town with that much wealth should have had a fort and a much larger garrison. Or a mercenary company if the Royals wouldn’t protect them. Something to stop people like him from coming and taking all of their stuff.

While the raid had gone well, it was afterwards that the trouble started. It had only been a few hours since they had departed, and a sail had appeared on the horizon. The crew had been hopeful at first. A lone merchantman with a full hold on its way to trade with the town they had just raided. Two scores in such a short time would have kept them going for the rest of the year.

Galax stood on his quarter deck, rubbing his thick black beard as he watched the ship. Ignoring the temptation to scratch at the scar where his right eye had been, he channeled the irritation into yelling at the crew. Galax was a pirate’s, pirate. Complete with missing eye, scars and dark temperament.

As the ship came closer, the fantasy of it being an easy score evaporated. It quickly became apparent that it was no fat merchantman, but a Royal frigate. More massive than his small two masted schooner, the warship flew far more sail.  The frigate’s three masts filled with giant white sails, allowing it to slice through the water; making its best speed for them.

With no prospect of profit coming from an engagement with a frigate, Galax ordered all sail flown and a course change. A strong wind from the east gave him hope for awhile. As night fell, both ships were still well out of weapons’ range.

As soon as darkness overtook them, Galax changed course. No lights were lit that night, in the hope of giving the frigate nothing to spot them with. Almost full the moon just made it possible to move about the deck without killing yourself. Seeing something leagues away by that light would be impossible.

When the sun came up the next morning, a heavy fog obscured the horizon. That bit of luck gave Galax hope. Even if they had not managed to shake the frigate during the night, the fog gave them concealment and more time to get away. He sent the crew to breakfast, feeling confident they had escaped.

Sitting down in his cabin, Galax closed his one good eye and savored the smells coming from the plate his steward presented to him. They had acquired several chickens and raided a butcher’s shop in that last town. Instead of slimy gruel, he had a steaming plate of beef and eggs. It had been so long since he had tasted fresh meat.

As Galax finished his eggs, he noticed the bowl of fruit that had been set out for him. That was another thing that he had not tasted in ages. With gusto he bit into one of the apples and let the juices drip down his face. The sheer pleasure of the sweet fruit made him feel he could die right there and be happy.

“Captain!” A shout came from behind his cabin door. Galax knew immediately, he might just get his wish.

“Come in!” he roared and one of the ship boys burst in. The lad was unable to keep himself still and was hopping between his feet and ringing his hands together.

“A sail has been spotted aft, coming up fast.”

Galax threw his fork down, half of his beef still uneaten, but brought the apple with him. The narrow passages that led up to the main deck were empty. Either word about the sail had not yet passed through the crew or they were avoiding their duty. The lazy scallywags wouldn’t get to hide in the mess much longer.

Moving towards the aft quarterdeck, Galax found his first mate, Herish, standing with a spyglass looking aft. Even without the aid of the spyglass, Galax could make out the frigate behind them. Backset by the fog bank they had just recently emerged from, it was easy to pick out the white sails and the giant orange flag of the Royals.

As he watched the warship, he saw two bright flashes. The faint sound of cannon fire reached them. A few seconds later, two geysers of water appeared only a few meters off his ship’s stern.

“Bow chasers,” Herish said, unnecessarily. “Probably long nines.”

“Indeed,” Galax mumbled. He was still trying to figure out how the frigate had found them in the dark and fog. His ship should have been faster than the bigger frigate. Tracking something in the dark when you didn’t know its destination amounted to luck. If the frigate’s captain was that lucky, the coming battle might go very badly for him.

Taking the spyglass from Herish, Galax looked over the deck of the approaching frigate. Two more geysers of water erupted nearby as he looked. Those shots were closer than the last. The enemy gunners were zeroing in on them. It would not be long before they found the range and were able to start doing damage.

The crew on the frigate was mostly stationary, not scurrying through the rigging and over the deck. That worried Galax. Already fully rigged for battle and the frigates’ crew was disciplined enough to be waiting patiently at their stations.

Panning the spyglass over to the quarterdeck, Galax tried to get a view of the captain. He wanted to see the man who he would be fighting. Standing calmly on the quarter deck was a figure in a dark orange officer jacket. Though still too distant to make out facial details, the man’s stature made it clear he was the one in command.

While examining the captain, Galax noticed something unexpected. Behind the captain was a robed figure standing with his arms out stretched to the sky. The robe looked out of place among the uniformed crew of the Royal ship. Suddenly, Galax felt as the first pangs of fear.

“They’ve got a Wind Wizard,” he said quietly to Herish.

His first mate gave Galax a shocked and almost panicked expression. He took the spyglass from Galax and made his own survey of the deck to confirm. When he lowered it, his face had lost almost all color.

“That explains how they were able to catch up to us,” Herish said. “Can Wind Wizards track ships too? I’ve never heard that.”

“Maybe,” Galax, said, thinking. And then a realization hit him. “That must have been why that town was so poorly protected. They normally have a Wind Wizard living there keeping anyone not friendly out of the harbor.”

“He must have been off with that frigate doing some chore for the Royals when we raided the town,” Herish said. “But how did he find us?”

“Magic,” Galax said simply.

“They will have complete control of the wind,” Herish said, hopelessness creeping into his voice. “We’re at the mercy of nature. They’ll be able to control the weather gage and engage us whenever and however they wish. Hell, the wizard can just blast us from the sea.”

Not likely, Galax almost said, but decided against it. He didn’t know much about Wind Wizards, but he did know that they couldn’t blast a ship. If he could figure a way out of this, and leave Herish and the crew fearing the wizard, his stature would increase. The more they were in awe of him, the safer he was from a mutiny.

So Galax thought. They were at least half a day’s sail from any land. With the present wind, they could only manage a speed of a few knots. The frigate, with the aid of the wizard, could move significantly faster. There was no chance that they would be able to outrun the frigate.

An idea occurred to him that, in any other circumstances, would be suicide. He recalled the advice his former captain had given him: pirates don’t win because they’re better fighters. Pirates win because they’re more daring. Merchants and navy men have things to lose. Pirates only have things to gain.

Deciding on his course of action, Galax began shouting out orders to the crew. They flew about the deck, more scared of him then they were of the approaching frigate, since they didn’t know about the wizard. That was his former captain’s second piece of advice. When the crew feared you, they would do anything you said. Respect was overrated.

As the pursuing frigate got closer, the bow chaser shots started to find their target. A few close misses were followed by a blast penetrating the stern. Galax looked down to see a hole in his cabin wall. His breakfast was certainly ruined now.

The frigate started to make a turn to port, in an effort to bring her main guns to bear. Galax had been anticipating this move. The long nines in the ship’s bow could hit them from a good distance, but they weren’t very powerful. To do enough damage to slow him down, they’d need to use their main guns.

With the wizard providing wind from whatever direction was required, the frigate was able to choose how it maneuvered. The captain had opted to maintain their speed advantage over Galax’s ship. At the new angle, the frigate was able to bring her guns to bear without losing any speed.

A devastating rain of iron cannons balls sped towards his ship. The total weight of the frigate’s broadside was more than Galax could wield with the cannons on both sides of his ship. It would be easy to cripple his ship with that much firepower.

Fortunately, the range between the two ships was still fairly high. The gun crews must not have taken the new wind direction into account. Splashes appeared in the ocean more than a boat length away from his ship. Had the gun crews been more accurate, Galax’s plan, along with the ship, could have been blown away before he could implement it.

The one flaw to using a Wind Wizard was that wind, once created, didn’t just stop after it helped move your ship. There were now three distinct flows of air moving in conflict with each other; the world’s natural flow, the breeze that had originally carried the frigate that had not yet died, and the new flow.

Galax began issuing a complicated series of orders. The crew dashed through the rigging as the sails were raised, lowered, and shifted in quick succession. Using every bit of skill he had acquired during his life at sea, Galax maneuvered the ship across the three wind directions.

In a maneuver that would have been impossible with normal weather, Galax changed the ship’s direction quickly. The frigate tried to counter Galax’s maneuvering, but the bigger ship had been rigged for speed. It was unable to alter its course quickly enough compared to Galax’s smaller, more maneuverable ship.

In the end, he succeeded in bring them across the frigate’s wake and “crossing the T,” bringing all of their broadside guns to bear against the stern of the frigate, which had no guns capable of responding. It was the position every captain strived for. From here, he could do maximum damage, without fear of taking any in turn.

“Fire!” Galax roared.

A thundering blast erupted from the guns. While they carried far less firepower than the frigate, they weren’t weak. The cannons fired a mix of ball and chain-shot. The heavy cannon balls punctured the hull and would, hopefully, disable the stirring controls to the ship’s rudder. The chain-shot would tear through the frigates rigging, with the aim of destroying the masts.

The thunder receded as soon as it had begun. Galax shouted into the sudden eerie silence, “Reload with grape!”

With the crew seeing to the cannons, Galax turned to Herish. “How did we do?”

His first mate was using the spyglass to survey the damage done to the frigate. “It looks like we cut their steering. They can’t maneuver.”

Galax smiled. “Excellent.”

Shouting orders to his sailmaster, Galax tried to bring them in close to the frigate. They slowly started to creep up along the side, but the wind suddenly shifted. The Wind Wizard was now close enough to use his magic not only on the frigate, but Galax’s ship as well. Instead of approaching the frigate on a parallel course, they were now facing a headwind and were losing speed.

“Loose sails!” Galax ordered.

The crew quickly released the bindings on the sails. Instead of being taut, and catching the wind, they went slack. The wind pushed against them, still slowing them down, but without the sails, the force was not enough. They drifted into place beside the disabled frigate.

Now the two ships were side by side, their massive cannon decks facing each other. Almost simultaneously, another exchange of fire from the two ships erupted. Holes were blown in Galax’s ship’s side, spars were shot down, and crew cried in pain. But they were fortunate.

The frigate had still been loaded for long range engagement. They had smaller weight balls to allow for greater range. This had caused less damage than had they been using the heavier shot.

Galax, however, had his cannons loaded with grapeshot. The damage to the frigate was superficial, but the crew was decimated. Hundreds of tiny lead balls spread across the frigate’s deck. Every exposed crewman was hit in some fashion.

“Boarding grapples!” Galax shouted.

The crew threw out lines of rope with grappling hooks attached. The grapples whisked out across the sea and dug into the sides of the frigate. With a concerted effort, the crew heaved on the ropes, and pulled the two massive ships closer together. A shudder vibrated through the deck as the hulls collided.

“Boarding parties go!”

A wave of crew flew over the railing and climbed up the sides of the taller frigate, letting out a fearsome scream. Piracy required good sailing skills and a willingness to get bloody. They were better at the bloody part.

Galax drew his cutlass and followed them. He pulled himself over the frigate’s railing and charged in amongst the crew. Sweeping his blade before him, he slashed at anything wearing a uniform.

Still reeling from the grapeshot barrage, the frigate’s crew managed a poor initial reception. Galax had been expecting better from them. Based on his earlier assessment of the captain, he assumed the crew would be well trained. They must be too used to winning from afar and not used to boarding an enemy that had not been beaten into submission.

Galax fought his way to the quarter deck but felt disappointed to find the frigate’s captain already dead. He appeared to have been killed in the grapeshot barrage. Galax enjoyed a good sword fight, and the captain’s death had denied him that.

Looking past the captain, Galax saw the Wind Wizard standing against the deck’s aft railing, surrounded by several of Galax’s crew. The wizard was tall and with a bald head. His arms were raised towards the crew, as if to warn them to stay away. Galax had assumed the wizard to be old, but looked surprisingly young.

Facing off against his crew, the wizard wore a determined expression. One of them charged him and a rush of air came out of nowhere, picking the crewman up and throwing him over the railing. The wizard wouldn’t be as easy to take down as the captain.

“Secure the ship! Leave the wizard to me,” Galax roared at the crewmen surrounding the wizard.

Without hesitation, the crew ran off the quarter deck to join the melee below. For once, he thought. Despite their fear of him, there was always a slight pause at his orders. As if they were deciding if they wanted to test him.

“I don’t want to kill you, Wizard,” Galax said, lowering his cutlass.

The wizard said nothing in reply. They stood staring at each other.  The wizard could have thrown him into the ocean which made Galax wonder why he was still alive. Had the wizard surrendered? Or was it something else?

Around them, the battle raged. Galax continued to face the wizard, but neither of them spoke. After some time, the sounds of swords clashing and men dying faded away. Herish approached the quarter deck, holding a bleeding cut on his arm.

“Captain,” Herish said, “the ship is ours. The last bit of resistance has surrendered.”

“Good,” Galax said, turning from the wizard.

Smiling, he looked over the deck of the frigate. It was covered with bodies and blood. There were some broken spars in the rigging, but the hull itself was relatively undamaged.  It was a glorious prize, if a costly one.

“Offer any of the regular sailors the chance to join us. Those that refuse, lock up in the hold. We can make a good price on them on the slave markets. Throw the badly injured overboard. Don’t waste any resources healing them.”

Herish nodded at the orders and then asked, “What about the wizard?”

Galax looked at the wizard, who stood against the aft railing, his arms still half raised. They had stood there facing each other for a long time. It would have been easy for the wizard to kill Galax, but he hadn’t.

On impulse, Galax sheathed his cutlass. In response, the wizard lowered his hands. He now stood straight as a statue. His look of determination was replaced by a passive expression. Galax didn’t know what the wizard’s plans were. It was clear the wizard did not see himself as Galax’s prisoner, but he did not appear to be an enemy.

“He won’t be a problem,” Galax said. “He’s going to be a guest for awhile.”

Galax smile broadened. Now he had a frigate and, if he played his cards right, a Wind Wizard. The day was looking up.

 

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