Here’s a treat for Teaser Tuesday! This is a selection from the long lost and lamented Project 1. (otherwise known as Avarice) This novel wasn’t trunked, no, not at all. It was sent to a farm in the country to live with a family that loves it very much. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Sorry for the length, but this is one of my favorite scenes. You shoulda seen the one that came before it, it was pretty pimp too. Too bad the overall plot of the book is unsalvageable as it stands now.
Ah well, maybe someday.
She was still buckling her sword on when she hit the deck to find her men already at the ropes, rigging the ship for fast running. “Rourke! Report!”
The old man greeted her with an unexpected grin, which stopped her in her tracks. “It ain’ tha Dread. It’s tha Asp.”
Jaysa took up the offered glass, to find a small two-masted ship coming up fast on their aft side. Rourke’s grin was contagious. Though it ran with no flag, she knew that ship. The small band of privateers made a point of harassing anyone they could catch, and they had chased the Avarice before with no luck. This would be fun. “Get her set, Rourke, I want to see them eat wake.”
The impending chase seemed to brighten everyone’s mood as the sleeping portion of the crew was roused to aid the rest. She could see Etienne already aloft in the riggings to keep a lookout, calling orders down to the crew below. Nite had thrown his hand in at the sails, Pascal tight on his heels like a little barnacle.
The crew of the Asp knew they had been seen, and like the Avarice, the ship was being prepared for a chase. Through her telescope, Jaysa watched the men scamper into the ropes as easily as walking on land, and laughed when she caught their captain staring back at her through his own spyglass. She gave a jaunty wave and received one in response. It was to be a lark then. To be sure, the pirates would rob them if they caught them – though they had little enough on board worth value – but in the end it was the chase that mattered, the thrill of flying over the waves after a long winter ashore.
She nudged Rourke away from the wheel with a wicked grin, and raised her voice. “Hard to port, boys, make ‘em work for it!” The answering roar from her men was the sweetest thing she had heard in months.
The Avarice responded as eagerly as the men, leaping across the smooth water ahead of the smaller ship. They were in flat open sea, and in a straight run, the Asp was lighter and would most likely catch them. But the larger Avarice plowed diagonal swathes across the wind and current, never letting the pirates draw alongside for fear of being crushed under. The crew and ship acted as one creature, the barked orders from Jaysa only serving as extra motivation. Even Pascal found himself a place next to Nite, doing his small part to keep the ship speeding along.
Jaysa lost herself in the moment, steering by instinct, calling out commands without truly thinking about it. This was what she loved, what she lived for. Nothing could stop her, not with the Avarice under full sail, not with the Lady’s waves calm and beckoning. She could feel the pull and tug of each rope on each billowing sail through the soles of her feet, feel the rudder buffeted by the hidden currents through her hands on the wheel. In all of it, the Avarice spoke to her, guided her, and together they were unstoppable.
Each time the Asp got within shouting distance, the Avarice would change course hard to the opposite side, leaving the smaller ship scrambling to catch up in the larger vessel’s wake. Some of Jaysa’s crew hung over the rear railing, cat calling and whooping to the Asp below, and the pirate crew yelled back jibes and taunts. Certainly, any of them could have opened fire with pistols or cannons at any time, but neither crew seemed to wish it, both finding joy in the contest the chase had become.
Why then, in the bright light of the noonday sun, was she suddenly freezing?
It was on their next turn to starboard that Jaysa heard the warning shout. “Ware to starboard!” Knowing very well that the Asp was on the port side and behind, she jerked her head in that direction to see what new threat approached. The sight chilled her to her very core.
The Dread loomed to their right, tattered sails full and barreling toward the embattled pair with deadly purpose. No matter what condition the rest of the haphazard vessel was in, there was no missing the gleaming spike adorning the prow.
“Shit!” Jaysa spun the wheel without warning, jerking many off their feet and sending the boat reeling toward port again. She cut across the Asp’s path, barely missing crushing the smaller ship beneath the Avarice’s keel. The pirate captain jerked his wheel to starboard, and the pair of ships skimmed along each side of the Dread as it passed between them within touching distance.
Where the seven hells had it come from?! A ship could not just appear from no where on an empty sea, and yet Jaysa would swear to her dying day they had not been so involved in the chase as to miss its approach.
“Man the guns! Everyone out of the rigs!” The game had suddenly turned serious, and with the maneuvers that would be necessary, any unwary sailor could be pitched from the high ropes into the sea, a death sentence in these suddenly crowded waters.
There was a thump as Etienne hit the deck beside her, and the pair of them exchanged grim glances. “Get Pascal and Nite below.” The Basque sailor nodded and moved to give the order.
The captain dared a glance behind to see that the Dread had already come around from its near collision and was now moving to flank the Asp, herding the pirate vessel back toward the Avarice. Sweet Lady, they couldn’t truly think to take both ships?
The captain of the Asp darted his ship behind the Avarice abruptly, putting the larger ship between his and the Dread. In return, Jaysa cut her ship hard right, ducking the abrupt spray of water as she again passed within spitting distance of the ship of horrors. She had one glimpse of the Dread sailors, standing eerily silent at the rails of their own ship with the boundless patience of a stalking shark. She caught the sight of shark’s teeth, of impossibly large mouths beneath the same empty black eyes as the keshiel. Predators, merely waiting. A hook hit the port railing and caught, only to have its rope neatly severed by Selby’s belt knife. That was too close.
“We gotta split from tha Asp, they can only chase one a us!” Rourke appeared at her elbow, cudgel slung at his belt in preparation for battle.
He was right, she knew, but that still gave even odds that the Dread would pursue them instead of the Asp. And if the Asp could break free, she could easily outrun the Avarice, leaving the larger ship to its fate.
“We could fight them together. They cannot take both ships at once.” Etienne’s argument was also sound, save that it depended on the crew of the other ship stopping to aid once the battle was joined.
The odds were against them, and Jaysa liked it not. There was only one way to ensure that the Dread did not dog their wake all the way to Jeranthin.
“Port side gunners! Load ball and chain!” She heard the order passed from man to man down into the hold and took a firmer grip on the wheel. They only had one gun on that side. They would only get one shot.
“Those masts are too thick! The chains will not take them down!” Etienne was right. While a whirling ball and chain, fired from a cannon, would shatter smaller masts, the Dread was made of sterner stuff. Nevermind the common knowledge that the Dread was unsinkable, inescapable. “Jaysa, are you listening to me?”
She listened, of course, but her mind was set. The Dread could not be allowed to overtake the Avarice. She knew that Etienne and Rourke were exchanging worried glances behind her back, but she did not have time to explain. Nor did she want to try.
“Ready for hard to port!” The men on the decks below moved, shifted, taking positions to accomplish whatever their captain asked of them. Jaysa watched their wake, keeping the Asp and the Dread in her sights, waiting for just the right moment. It came. “Now!” The wheel spun under her hands and every man heaved at the ropes. With a tortured groan of timber and line, the Avarice turned broadside, not into the path of the Dread, but to face the Asp. She could hear the moment her men grasped her intent, the tumult of shouting changing to shock and incredulity.
“What are you doing?!” Etienne gaped at her in horror.
“Fire!” The order was passed and carried out, the gun below thundering in answer. Jaysa watched as the ball and chain, only a blur to her eyes, spun through the air to wrap around the Asp’s foremast with a sickening crunch of wood. For a heart stopping moment, she thought the shot had failed. Then the mast began to list and suddenly toppled, trapping who knew how many men beneath the fallen sails and lines. The smaller ship lagged behind them, crippled.
As she had hoped, the Dread dropped pursuit, circling back to descend on the Asp like sharks to blood. She watched for no longer than that, turning her attention back to her own vessel. They still had to get away.
“Sweet and merciful Lady, Jaysa, what have you done?” Etienne still stared at her, face pale beneath his dark hair. “Those men…”
“Those men aren’t mine. And mine are still alive.”
An explosion sounded behind them. Perhaps the Asp had fired their small guns in an attempt to stave off boarding. But dead in the water as they were, there would be no escaping the Dread’s mad crew. More than one man leaned out over the rails, trying to see behind them, murmurs of disbelief replacing the cacophony of impending battle. Jaysa never turned to look back. She did not want to see what fate she had condemned them to. “We run full sail to Jeranthin, all watches.” They could not afford to stop now.