Chapter 51: Tides of Ruin
Hushed voices mixed with the soft patter of rain that fell on the medical tent in the castle courtyard. Rustag awoke to a candle burning low by his cot. Two women and a man brought poultices to the wounded men lying next to him. The nurses had pushed two cots together to hold Rustag’s girth. As he rolled his weight onto one he heard it creak. He pulled himself up from its weathered canvas and looked over at Absalom. His comrade looked battered and broken, but alive. “Still breathing friend?” Absalom’s slight snore told him enough. The man needed rest. The townspeople around them had given what aid they could behind the fortifications, and though a small part of Rustag wanted to stay, he knew his duty was to stand by the king’s side. Rustag stood slowly, clenching his fists as his muscles in his side cried in pain, and found an old blanket. He laid it on Absalom.
“Rest then. I’m needed elsewhere.” He turned to leave, then paused, “It was a good plan . . . I liked the explosions.” As he moved past the fortifications, he saw the king’s vanguard farther down the stone street, fighting desperately against a fiery horde. Rustag grabbed a nearby polearm and made for the battle.
* * * * * * * *
Egan emerged from the hatch and climbed back out onto the deck. The fresh air off the sea was a comfort after the stifling stench of death below decks. His face and shirt were covered in blood.
Alexandra’s face turned white.
“It’s not mine, Princess.” he told her, wiping the blood from his blade, “though we lost many.”
Avery came up after him. He too was covered in gore, and a large gash ran across his brow.
“My salves, Maker, I should have brought them,” Alexandra said as she ripped a strip of cloth from her shirt and bound it around Avery’s head.
“My lady, I’ll see more than this by morning’s light I’m sure,” Avery said and smiled. He turned to look up at the sky. “If morning ever comes, that is. This foul darkness has been with us too long.”
“Maker, look at that.” Egan groaned as they saw the Amorite fleet launch another volley of brimstone over the city’s walls. “Still they pummel us. Any resistance the king can muster will be blown apart once they near the Western Gate.”
Avery gripped Egan’s arm. “The men have counted the guns on deck and below, we have balls and powder enough to take out five of their vessels if not more. It will make a dent.”
Egan nodded. “Then have the men below decks put all the cannons on the starboard side. Powder them as well. We’ll have one chance at a surprise, and I won’t waste it.” Egan turned to his men nearby. “Lads, go and bring the deck guns to bear on that.” Egan pointed to a brig several hundred yards to their starboard side. “When I give the word, we fire. I’ll take the helm and Alex . . .”
Egan’s tone softened, “I’ll have another man come up to help, but we’ll need you to lift the sails. There’s a bit of breeze coming off the port, it should be enough to move us into position. This won’t be easy. I won’t be able to protect you.”
“I’m not asking you to,” Alexandra said and held his gaze.
“You realize once we hit one of their fleet, all their guns will come to bear on us? We’ll have little time to shift our aim,” Avery said.
“We’ll make do as best we can,” Egan replied shaking his head. There were no other options.
Egan’s men moved the under-deck cannons and brought them to bear on the brig to their side while Alexandra, Avery, and a few others pulled up the top deck guns and pulled the sails high. As the wind filled them, Egan took the helm and brought the schooner around.
“Fire all guns!” he yelled and with a thunderous boom, the ship’s cannons shot their payload.
* * * * * * * *
Dagon looked past the miasma. The visions the black magic gave were often murky at best and left his eyes tired. He pulled his gaze away. As he moved past the altar, a thunderous explosion echoed across the sky. He looked up. No lightning flashed.
No. Can’t be. The sorcerer ran to the side of the ship. Before his eyes, he saw one of his vessels explode into a ball of fire.
We destroyed their fleet, stole their vessels. What is this? “Drop the sails! Bring us about!” he screamed to the helmsman. The great black galleon shuddered and then, as the sails filled, turned to face the fiery din. From behind the flames, Dagon saw one of his schooners sail fleetly past, making its way towards the docks.
“Full speed, Captain! Ram them!” He screamed. The black galleon picked up speed and pressed forward, dead on target.
* * * * * * * *
Egan steered the ship forward, and as it slid by its target, he saw the deck of the brig was aflame, its men were scrambling and screaming amidst the fires. Others were jumping ship. Another corsair came into view.
“Ready your aim!” Egan called, “Fire!”
Another Amorite ship blew apart in a cloud of debris and fire. Egan turned his head towards the rest of the fleet. Corsairs had stopped their siege and were now shifting their sails and sliding towards them. A volley of shot flew across the deck and destroyed the railing.
“Get down!” he screamed and instantly searched for Alexandra’s form on the deck. She peered round from the mast, then returned to help with the sails.
Another Corsair drew alongside them, its deck guns echoed as their cannonballs blew apart the schooner’s sails and sent the main mast crashing down. Two of his men were crushed under its weight.
Alexandra dodged the debris and made her way to the helm next to Egan.
“We’re dead in the water!” she yelled above the noise.
Egan looked to the docks and great staircase, though the Lion’s Mouth loomed over them, they were still too far from the shore to disembark. He ran to the hatch. Below he saw Avery and his men loading their cannons. “Fire when ready!” he called to them. Their cannons roared as the corsair moved past them and pulled hard to port, making a loop for a return attack.
We barely scratched them. “Load your guns! Hurry! They’re turning for another round!” Egan called to the men and then followed Alexandra’s gaze, off the bow, the entire fleet was racing towards them. “Well, Princess, you wanted their attention. We’ve got it.”
As she turned back to look at Egan, her face went white, bearing down on them was Dagon’s war galleon. Its screaming figurehead was only a few yards away.
“Egan! The starboard side! Turn the ship!” she screamed, as the galleon slammed into them.