Paragon bellowed and thrust and parried with a staff that found only air. From the moment the first grapples were thrown, victory was an undreamt dream. Paragon’s decks soaked up the blood of the dying and the ship roared with the impact of the losses. Worse was the sound that reached Brashen’s ears with the relentless whistling of a wind in the rigging. It was Vivacia’s voice, crying out in words both human and alien as she urged the pirates on. Almost he was glad Althea had perished before she had heard her own ship turn against them.
His crew fought bravely and uselessly. They were outnumbered, inexperienced, and some were injured. Young Clef remained at his side, a short blade in his good hand, throughout the heartbreakingly brief struggle. As the wave of boarders engulfed them, Brashen killed a man, and then another, and Clef took out a third by hamstringing him but got a nasty slash down his ribs for his bravery. More pirates simply stepped over the bodies of their comrades, blades at the ready. Brashen grabbed the boy’s collar with his free hand, and jerked him back behind him. Together they retreated through the disorder, fighting only to stay alive, and managed to gain the foredeck. Brashen looked down at a deck fouled with downed men. The pirates were in clear command of the carnage; his own men were reduced to defending themselves or scurrying like chased rats through the rigging as laughing freebooters hunted them down. Brashen had thought to get a better view of the battle and call out commands to re-form his fighters, but a single glance showed him no strategy save one could save them. It was not battle, but slaughter.
“I’m sorry,” he said to the bleeding boy at his side. “I should never have let you come with me.” He raised his voice. “And I’m sorry, Paragon. To bring you so far and raise such hopes in us both, only to end like this. I’ve failed you both. I’ve failed us all.”
He took a deep breath and bellowed out the hated words. “I yield! And I beg quarter for my crew. Captain Brashen Trell of the liveship Paragon yields and surrenders his ship to you.”
It took a moment for his words to penetrate the din. The clatter of swords gradually stilled, but the moaning of the wounded went on. Walking through the mayhem toward Brashen, his moustache elegantly curled, unsullied by blood or sweat, came a one-legged man who could only be Captain Kennit. “Already?” he asked dryly. He gestured at his sheathed weapon. “But good sir, I’ve only just come aboard. Are you certain you wish to yield?” He glanced about at the scattered huddles of survivors. Their weapons lay at their feet, while circles of blades menaced them. The pirate’s smile was white, his voice charming as he offered, “I’m sure my lads would be willing to let them pick up their blades for one more try at this. It seems a pity to fail on your very first effort. This was your first effort, wasn’t it?”
The laughter that greeted each of his sallies washed against Brashen like licking flames. He looked down to avoid the despairing eyes of his crew, but found Clef looking up at him. His brimming eyes were full of anguish as he protested, “I wouldena given up, sir. I’d a died f’you.”
Brashen let his own weapon fall. He set a hand on the boy’s fair head. “I know. That was what I feared.”
AND SO, A TIDY ENDING AFTER ALL. FAR TIDIER THAN HE HAD EXPECTED, GIVEN all the hitches his original plan had encountered. Kennit did not even bother to step forward to accept the captain’s weapon. The churl had let it fall to the deck anyway. Had he no concept of the proper way to do things? It was not that he feared to step on the foredeck. The crew was efficient. They had been too long without a real battle. This one had barely whetted their appetite before it was over. He would have to hunt down a slaver or two and let them indulge themselves. For now, he commanded that the survivors be secured under the hatches. They went docilely enough, expecting that he would soon summon their captain and negotiate terms for ransom. Once they were out of sight, he had his men throw the bodies overboard. The serpents, he noted with disdain, were quick enough to come for this easy meat that they had refused to kill for themselves. Well, let it be, let them think it was bounty from Bolt. Perhaps stopping a slaver or two and feeding the serpents fat again would restore their tractability.
The Althea matter was settled easily enough. There were no women aboard, amongst the living or dead. To Captain Trell’s anguished questions as to whether the Vivacia had taken up any survivors from his ship’s boat, he could only shrug. If she had been in the ill-fated rowboat, then it had not managed to return to the ship. He gave a small sigh that might have been relief. He did so hate to lie to Wintrow. He could have an easy conscience when he shrugged his shoulders and said that whatever had befallen her was none of his doing.
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