Battle of the Windcatcher

for Lady
my friend and the person who holds me accountable


“It’s the Royal Navy, Captain,” Aeda says, dropping the spyglass from her hazel eye to inform me of what lies in wait.

Sunshine gleams in her auburn hair, and its warmth kisses our sun-browned skin. The heat of it warms my crown even beneath my tricorn hat as I squint into the distance. Scanning the horizon but unable to make out the blurred shapes, I hold out my fingers for the scope. I make the request simply because I wish to see for myself, not because I do not trust my first mate. On the contrary, I trust Aeda with my life.

She deposits the device in my hand, and I raise it to my own eye. A fleet guards the entrance to the sea cave, a barricade of hulls and taut sails with more cannons than a fortress. As a pirate, I am accustomed to skirmishes with the Royal Navy, who toil endlessly to uphold the King’s Law. Yet even before I turned to pirating and a life wholly dedicated to crime, I was on the wrong side of the law.

I am a mage in a kingdom where magic is outlawed, and my very existence put me at risk from the day my power manifested. No matter that I had no intentions of doing anything remotely criminal. Now I am exactly what they made me out to be: a ruthless hunter more powerful than they could ever comprehend.

“Superstitious clods, the lot of them,” I mutter.

“Perhaps there is some truth to the tales, Moira,” Aeda cautions.

“Truth to stories from men who fear magic more than the gates of Hell itself?” I ask. The very idea prompts a bout of skeptical laughter. “Regardless, neither tall tales nor flotillas have thwarted us before, and I certainly do not intend for either to stop us now. The Windcatcher and her crew are my life, and I shall protect you until the end.”

“Let us hope it does not come to that,” says Aeda with a grim smile. “This crew is the only family we have. We may be from different walks of life, but the bond of shared experience is greater than any forged in blood.”

I grasp Aeda’s arm with sure fingers. “You are my sister, in arms if not by blood, and I intend to keep my promise to you and do everything in my power to safeguard mages like us. And I will no more abandon the rest of our crew and forsake my vows to them than I would renege on my pledge to you, dear sister. I will protect those who do not deserve punishment as a consequence of unjust laws written by men who know nothing of life’s difficulties.”

As the words float away on the breeze, my eyes gleam silver, my power rippling just under the surface at the fervor of my words.

Aeda ducks her head in acquiescence. “I trust your intentions, no matter the outcome.”

Her words seem to harbor an ill portent, and I hesitate, but even mages are not granted the gift of sight. “We will battle our way through this as we have countless times before,” I assure her. “Let us not back down now. Not when we have come so far.”

Aeda smiles, but I have known her long enough to see that her cheerfulness is forced. I smile back with confidence, and she plucks the spyglass from my fingers, puts the glass to her eye, and continues to monitor the ships growing ever larger in the distance, a true smile tugging at her lips. I leave her to her duty, springing down the stairs from the forecastle two at a time. I cross the main deck, wending my way around bustling members of my crew on my way to Dasher at the helm.

I clap him on the back, and he smiles, only a hint of the old sorrow visible within his warm brown eyes. I grin back, for when Dasher first came to me, he would not smile at all. I still do not know the exact circumstances that brought my helmsman to me, but I know he killed his own father. If the act was out of necessity or vengeance, I am unsure; all I know is that his father killed his brother, and afterward, Dasher ended the man’s life. I never pried for more details; I have no need for those. All I required was the understanding that Dasher was on the wrong side of the law, just like the rest of us, unfairly judged for what society labeled a crime.

“Steady on, no matter what comes,” I order. “Nothing shall stand between us and our treasure.”

“The loot is ours, Captain.”

“That’s the spirit!” I affirm, and with a whoop, I call my crew to arms.

The deck is a flurry of activity as Aeda steps from the gunwale and directs the crew in the execution of my wishes. In the midst of the preparations, I summon Liv to my side. Liv is a mage, the only one amongst my crew besides Aeda and I. She comes running, the hundreds of braids in her blonde hair swinging around her shoulders.

“The jar, Captain?” she asks, and at my nod, she darts away to retrieve it.

When the activity stills, we are ready to face the Royal Navy. I now see the enemy fleet with my naked eye. I can even make out the entrance to the sea cave, a dark mouth in a rocky outcropping jutting from the cerulean waves, just beyond. I plant my boots on the Windcatcher‘s deck, and salt spray peppers my face as we approach the armada. I breathe in deeply, enjoying the tang in the air and the sun’s warmth on my face. A wild grin splits my features as I call to Dasher at the helm.

“Steady on!” I remind him.

With Aeda at my back and death in my eyes, we charge into battle, the most fearsome pirates on the seas. Cannon fire deafens as we broadside the flagship. The vessel returns fire, but a flick of my wrist turns the black iron shot to smoke. Liv shimmies out the hatch from the hold below with the jar. Inside are bits of wood, rope, and sails from ships we sent to the depths, mementos of battles won. The fragments call to me, a fluctisonant song resonating deep in my bones. Liv presses the jar into my hands, wrapping her fingers tightly around mine. Aeda is next, reaching around my side to lend her strength.

Clouds blot out the sun, darkening the sky as I summon rotting hulls from below, drawing on the magic burgeoning within all three of us. With the heat of the magic inside me, I do not miss the sun, even as the sky opens, releasing a deluge.

Ships rise from the deep, creaking and heavy with kelp and decay. They traverse the waves without sails, under my direction, crashing through naval vessels until only several ships in the royal fleet remain afloat.

One vessel, the Absolution, realizes that I cannot bring my weapons too near my own ship and slips alongside us despite heavy cannon fire.

“We are boarded!” Callum, one of my newer recruits, yells from the main deck, his powerful voice rising above both the gunfire and the downpour.

I press the jar into Liv’s eager fingers. “Collect the pieces. Protect the jar. Stay safe,” I tell her fiercely.

She bobs her head once and disappears into the chaos. Aeda and I charge into the melee after her, cutlass drawn. I take only a few steps before a man swings down from the rigging, landing in a crouch before me. I identify him as an officer by the fine gold piping and brass buttons on his navy blue jacket and by the quality of his waistcoat and breeches beneath, although his hat has been lost somewhere.

The officer is quick to draw his rapier, and I immediately set into him with my cutlass, lunging and slashing at his chest to keep him at a distance.

“Do not do this,” the man cautions. “Stop this foolishness before forces with which we cannot reckon are awakened.”

“I refuse to surrender, especially to the likes of you,” I spit.

“This is no matter of bravery,” the officer says, parrying my blow with a grunt. “It is a matter of honor, of morality.”

“The likes of me have no such scruples,” I reply, a sardonic lilt to my voice.

“Somehow I doubt that.” He dodges to the side and continues to counter my attacks without mounting any of his own. “You may be famous for your brutality, Captain, but I have watched you long enough to know what you are about. I think perhaps you have a better sense of integrity than most.”

“Do not pretend to know me,” I hiss.

“As you would have it, Captain,” he agrees. “But you must stop this; the treasure you seek must not fall into mortal hands.”

“You lay your life on the line for mere superstition,” I scoff, darting past his defenses to elbow him in the ribs and upset his balance. Wisps of my brown hair brush his cheeks, we are so close, and I look into grey eyes only a handbreadth from mine.

Those eyes widen as the officer fails to right his balance, slipping on the wet deck, and crashes to the sodden planks. I take advantage of his vulnerability, disarming him with a flick of my cutlass and kicking his blade from his reach. I place the tip of my cutlass at his throat, but he does not cower.

“Please, Captain,” he begs, his throat bobbing against my blade producing a small trail of blood. “Not for me, but for everyone.”

His request strikes a chord in me, and I withdraw my blade slightly. That he would ask for me to leave the treasure as his men lie dead or dying around us, his fleet reduced to an array of broken pieces on the waves, rather than take this last chance to beg for his own life means something, yet I cannot bring myself to believe him.

I press the tip of my blade more firmly into his throat once more. “I shall take my chances,” I say. The resigned look in his eyes, the way the fire so evident only moments before extinguishes, compels me to spare the officer. In the next breath I lower my cutlass to my side. “Go,” I say, ticking my chin towards the nearest gunwale. “Before I change my mind.”

The officer stands, scrambling for the side of the ship, the thump of my boots following ominously in the wake of his retreat. He swings one leg over the gunwale and then turns back. I jab my cutlass towards his neck once more. “Do not make me reconsider,” I warn.

“It will come,” he insists, swallowing hard as he leans further over the gunwale to escape the bite of my cutlass.

I do not know why I bother with this conversation, but I do. “I told you, I will take my chances,” I say. “Now it is time you take yours. Shall I assist, or will you take the plunge of your own volition?” I raise my eyebrows expectantly, awaiting his answer.

In response, he swings his other leg over the side of the ship and drops from view. I hear him hit the water below, but I do not look to see if he grabs onto any of the flotsam to save himself from the waves. He will likely die despite my lenience.

My crew cheers behind me, our ship relieved of unwanted passengers. Even Aeda smiles, Liv joining in when she slips back on board with the jar, now filled with more remnants of our conquests, more vessels for the growing ranks of our exanimate armada.

“Well done,” I applaud those gathered before me. “Resume course!”

The way clear, we sail to the mouth of the sea cave, make anchor, and launch the tender. I take only Aeda and Dasher with me, leaving Liv in command of the ship and her maintenance while we delve into the cave.

Darkness envelops us, and Aeda and I cast mage lights to illuminate our path as Dasher rows onward. Soon, we enter a large cavern with a rocky island in the center.

“I wager the treasure is in the middle,” I say, and both Aeda and Dasher agree, Aeda with a curt nod, Dasher with a grin.

We make land at the edge, climbing from the tender with caution before stowing our boat and moving inward. The island is larger than seems possible for a landmass entombed in a cave, but soon I make out a large stone altar, and atop it, the unmistakable outline of a chest. The hum of magic fills the air, tickling my senses until my skin begins to itch the closer we draw to the massive slab.

“The treasure must be warded,” Aeda says, scratching her arm absently.

“Hmm,” I agree, already contemplating how to break the protections placed on the chest, presumably by its last owner. I prod the magic with my own, but it remains inert, neither fighting back nor receding.

“Let me know when you need me for my muscles,” Dasher says, giving his arms a quick flex before sitting down on a rock facing the water to keep watch while he waits.

“Sure thing,” I respond before turning back to my musings.

“Perhaps we can overload the wards,” Aeda suggests, her brow furrowed, ignoring Dasher entirely.

I approach slowly, circling the altar to examine the situation from all sides. My mage light illuminates grooves in the altar, and when I bend to examine them more closely, I realize there are images carved into the sides of the slab. “Aeda,” I beckon, waving her over to add her light to my own, so we can decipher the carvings.

When we complete a full circle of the altar, Aeda and I look one another in the eye, and I am fairly certain we both know how we must break the wards.

“I have a bad feeling about this, Moira,” Aeda says, her eyes clearly scanning the last images in the sequence.

I turn my eyes to the carving of a person with a blade to his own arm and shrug. “What is a little blood sacrifice in the face of a lifetime of wealth, enough wealth to buy our safety until the end of our days?” I ask, my eyes pleading with her to understand, for although I am captain of the Windcatcher, I will not make decisions that affect my entire crew without consulting my first mate. “As sailors, we sacrifice as much to the sea regularly,” I continue. “One more sacrifice to a rock shouldn’t make much difference.”

“Perhaps,” Aeda relents. “But what does the sun have to do with this?” she asks, pointing to the last carving, the image after the man with the knife and what I suspect to be three drops of blood.

The picture appears to be of a sun, pointy rays of light emanating from the center, with eight wavy rays extending outward in another layer of light.

“I am not sure,” I say, my own brow pinching.

“If it means we will have calm skies and smooth seas for sailing for the rest of our lives, count me in,” says Dasher, his elbows propped on his knees.

“The world needs rain to survive, Dasher,” Aeda argues, ever the voice of reason. “Perhaps it represents something more metaphorical, such as enlightenment?”

I raise a quizzical brow. “You think this was left here by some sort of philosopher?”

“What do you think it is?” Aeda counters.

“The price of breaking the wards,” I reply, running my fingers along the grooves of the jagged star.

“Are you willing to pay it?” Aeda asks, ignoring the fact that I have only partially answered her previous question.

“If you are.”

Aeda looks at me hard for a moment, and then she nods. “I am with you until the end. Whatever it takes.”

“Whatever it takes,” I echo, clasping her elbow as she grips mine.

Together, we slit our palms and allow three drops of blood to fall onto the smooth surface of the altar. The air shifts, the chest groans as if releasing a sigh, and the wards no longer press against my mind.
“Dasher, grab the loot, and let us leave this place,” I say, suddenly ready to be back aboard the Windcatcher and out of the gloom, for all the mage light in the world could not make the cavern any less chilling.


A week passes, and my unease begins to settle. Two weeks are soon gone, and then three. We spend the spoils of our labor in seaside towns, and none turn us away as we make our way along the coast.

My crew sit around me in a tavern, tipsy from the ale beginning to slosh from their tankards a bit too freely. Callum is on his third joke about peg legs, everyone laughing despite the fact that, on a normal day, no one but Liv finds his jokes funny. I join in, the levity infectious.

“Did you think you could escape your fate, Captain?”

The familiar voice has me spinning in my seat, but my crew pays no notice to the newcomer, caught up in another round of toasting and raucous laughter. The officer stands behind me, his navy blue uniform immaculate, his ensemble complete this time with his hat atop his head. My face must betray my surprise, for he says, “Thought I went down with my ship and the rest of my crew, did you?”

I collect myself quickly. “No. I just never expected to see you again.”

“Then you should not have taken the treasure.”

“It has been three weeks, and nothing has come of it.”

“The merchant vessels and fishermen sailing these waters would beg to differ, for they contend with the sea beast while you waste the days away drinking and making merry from the safety of dry land.”

“The sea beast?” I ask.

“Yes, the kraken you awakened upon removing the treasure from the cave. It is all here in my grandfather’s journal,” he says, removing a small leather-bound book from the breast of his coat and flipping to a page near the middle.

He turns the page towards me, so I can see the rendering upon it. The sketch, old charcoal slightly smudged, shows a tentacled beast, its round mouth studded with row upon row of pointed teeth. Suddenly, the carving on the stone altar makes perfect sense, the jagged lines teeth, the wavy ones unnaturally supple limbs.

“Aeda,” I say, grabbing her arm and pulling her around to face me, almost all the ale tipping from her tankard in the process. “I figured out the price of taking the treasure, and you are not going to like it.”

I point at the journal the officer still extends in our direction and squeeze her arm until her eyes focus on the drawing, lucidity slowly returning to her gaze as the gravity of the situation takes hold. “Of course it would be something like this,” she mutters, tossing back the last swig of her ale. “Just our luck.”

“We cannot leave it out there,” I say. “That was not part of the plan.”

“Neither was battling monstrous sea beasts,” she laughs.

“Innocent people will die, are already dying.”

“People who would wish the same fate on us.”

“Aeda,” I admonish. “This is different from hurting those who would do us direct harm.”

“I know, I know.” She pats me on the chest with both hands, still slightly drunk. “Give me some time to sober up the crew.”

I nod to Aeda who herds my inebriated crew back to the Windcatcher and turn my attention once more to the officer. “We will right this wrong and fight the beast.”

“I should arrest you all and have the magistrate prepare the gallows, though I hardly feel such an end proper atonement for what you have done.” He sighs, his expression weary. “I believe, however, that power like yours is our only hope of defeating the kraken.” He draws himself up to his full height and hardens his gaze, “Our unfortunate dependence on you notwithstanding, I expect you to relinquish the treasure, Captain. Do not think of running. The Royal Navy shall await your return from battle, should you survive, and take you into custody at that time to await trial.”

“You think that just reward for our assistance?”

“Because you are responsible for the threat in the first place, I find these terms quite lenient. The magistrate would prefer no trial be conducted at all.”

I stand and brush past him on my way out the door, turning back at the last moment. “In that case, I hope never to see you again. Lucky for you, it seems fate is not so keen to grant me my wishes, and I might succeed in battling this beast of the deep.”

Aboard the Windcatcher, my crew is clearheaded thanks to a dose of Aeda’s power and a sobering speech from my first mate. I clap her on the back and hop up on the gunwale, grabbing one of the shrouds for balance.

“Sailors,” I call to my assembled crew. “Sisters. Brothers. You are my family, and I am sorry I was unable to win you the freedom and acceptance you deserve. I wish I could give you everything you need in this world, but perhaps these things are not within my power to give, and now a reckoning is upon us. I ask that you fight with me, fight with me as I have fought for you.

“Doing the right thing is seldom easy, but when have we ever taken the easy path? Life has given us its worst from the beginning, and has that stopped us? No!”

“No!” echoes my crew.

“Have we given up?”

“No!”

“Are we so far gone that we will no longer fight for what is right?”

“No!”

“Shall we show the Crown what pirates can do?”

“Aye!”

“Then to arms, my able crew, for today we face the kraken!”

Cheers erupt, and all are in good spirits despite the battle that is to come. I join them, but as we sail from the harbor, Aeda nudges my elbow and points into the distance where a dark line of warships await. I know it is the Royal Navy, waiting to arrest us if we succeed or to step in as a last line of defence should we fail.

“Cowards,” I mutter. All Aeda offers is a nod of agreement as she presses the spyglass to her eye and continues her quiet vigilance.

It is not long before dark clouds descend and the sea grows choppy and restless. Aeda stands on my right, and Liv hovers at my back with the jar clutched so tightly in her grasp that the tips of her fingers are bloodless. The ship rocks violently towards the starboard side, and we grab onto anything within reach to anchor ourselves to the deck.

“Now?” Liv begs.

“I fear we must,” I agree, reaching for Liv’s outstretched hands as Aeda does the same.

Our army of ships rises from the deep, rotted hulls, broken masts, and tattered sails swaying in the brewing storm. As soon as our ships emerge, giant tentacles shoot from the depths, wrapping around the broken vessels and pulling them asunder once more. It is a constant battle to keep them afloat, bringing them back one after another. For now, we are too far away to use our cannons, but I am not sure how much longer luck will be on our side. Soon, the creature will discover us aboard the Windcatcher.

And when it does, we will be ready.

For now, I direct the remains of our commandeered ships to surround the creature. The kraken seethes towards the nearest vessel, enveloping the entirety of the hull in its deathly embrace, fearsome teeth gnashing within its gaping maw. All at once, I send two more ships crashing through the entwined limbs of the beast and rotted wood of the floundering ship. My attack does more damage to my own pawns than the kraken, but when the creature wraps its tentacles around the Absolution, I see my chance. This ship is more intact than the rest, not yet fallen victim to rot and decay, so she withstands the barrage of vessels I send her way.

The crew cheers as the tentacles release the Absolution to writhe in the water, now bloody from the attack. Nothing but open sea and flotsam lie between us and the kraken. My army of reanimated vessels is reduced to wreckage, waterlogged pieces of wood riding the crests of the waves. I release my hold on the jar and wipe sweaty, rain-soaked hair from my face.

Callum ghosts to my side. “The cockboat is ready, Captain,” he says, for as Liv, Aeda, and I fought the beast out in the waves and Dasher held us steady, the rest of my crew loaded all our kegs of black powder into the tender and rigged her to blow. All I need to do is launch her, wait for the sea beast to grab ahold, and light the fuse. Then my crew will be safe.

The enraged kraken streaks through the water towards the Windcatcher.

Too fast, the creature is upon us. It wraps its remaining tentacles around the ship, and the deck dissolves into turmoil. I dart down to the main deck and hack at one of the beast’s many groping arms as the Windcatcher’s hull rasps and groans with the strain. In the next moment, a horrendous crack draws my attention to middeck where the mainmast snaps.

“Move!” I yell, although I fear none can hear.

I grab Liv by the arm and drag her out of the way as the mast crashes to the deck, splinters of wood flying. Several of my crewmembers are trapped beneath, but I have no time to spare for them, and my heart aches in my chest.

My crew is decimated, but I spot Callum trying to launch the tender alone at the aft of the ship. I race towards him, dragging Liv behind me and finding Aeda on the way, bloody but intact. Without thinking, I pluck a splinter from the tender’s worn hull.

“Hurry,” I urge them as I climb into the small boat. “Let us get her in the water. Quickly, now.”

“What about you, Captain?” Liv asks, her face streaked with tears even as her hands and arms move by memory, tugging the lines in tandem with Callum and Aeda to lower the boat to the waves below despite the lurch and sway of the Windcatcher.

“It is a Captain’s duty to take care of her crew,” I call up to her.

Before the boat hits the water, Dasher jumps down to land beside me on agile feet. “I cannot let you do this, Captain,” he says.

“It is a captain’s duty to put her crew first,” I argue. “Get out of here yourself, while you still can.”

“No, Captain. Allow me to do this for you.” His eyes are full of a mixture of joy and sorrow. “I could not save my brother. All I could do in the end was avenge his death. I would like this ending to be different. Please.”

I squeeze his hand and kiss his cheek. “Be well in the next life.”

With that, I pull myself back onto the Windcatcher, wondering if this ending will be as good as the one Dasher imagines.

I hold out the splinter, and Aeda and LIv grip my wrists without my asking. With our combined power, I send the tender out into the sea.

Almost instantly, the kraken surges towards the tender, engulfing the small vessel.

Moments later, there is nothing left but pressure in my ringing ears and the stench of burned meat.

With the Windcatcher slowly sinking beneath our feet, and nowhere to go, the remainder of my crew and I sit amidst the debris to await the arrival of the Royal Navy, their ships growing ever larger on the horizon. When they finally appear, the officer stands at the bow and surveys the detritus littering the water.

“Well done, Captain,” he applauds.

“I suppose luck was on your side after all,” I allow.

The man chuckles. “I suppose it was, although I would wager it was on yours too.”

“Shall we take them into custody, Sir?” a lower-ranking officer asks, two more seamen flaking him.

The officer holds up his hand to stay his men. “I think the pirates have suffered enough for one day, but perhaps if luck is on our side, we will see them again.”

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