“Don’t let that gutless swine off the deck!” Shi’ma’s shout was almost lost in the cash of steel on steel and the stampede of boots on wet wood. Salt cut the frigid, thrown into the air as two ships crashed through the storm-tossed sea. This is the life crossed her mind as she wrestled with the big, cold wheel of the Violet Delight, her crew trying to repel Shi’ma and her pirates from the cargo ship. Someone stumbled into her back and her chest slammed up against the unyielding wheel. The wince didn’t show on her face, but shit, she could only imagine the bruises that’d blossom across the tops of her tits tomorrow.
A scream erupted behind her, louder than the waves against the sides of both ships. It didn’t sound like her trusted Second, Danima, the voice too high for him. Powers witness her because this battle had dragged on too long already.
The tip she had received from the Crown, well King-Consort Solna, had said it was a soft merchant ship with a habit of carrying passengers who weren’t there by choice. Some had been sold by parents to lecherous people looking for spouses they could use and abuse. Others had been lied to and were on there way to be sold in the far North as slaves. Shi’ma couldn’t allow that. The Crown couldn’t either, but no one was as fast on the seas and so the King would send her when there were no other options.
A flicker of light caught the corner of her eye. Her ship, the fast little flat-bottomed Winter’s Heart, danced on the large sea swells. Joriran tilted the little mirror in her hands again in three rapid beats of light. The Heart’s crew were about to finish the job and Shi’ma relaxed her grip in the wheel. No one from the Delight would take over. All that was left was the clean up.
A heavy hand settled with a squeeze on her shoulder and Shi’ma glanced back at her grinning Second, spots of blood at the corner of his mouth and his nose starting to purple. Her old friend loved a good fight and by the glitter in his storm gray eyes, this one hadn’t disappointed.
“What should we do with the crew?” Danima’s voice easily rivaled the ocean’s. Deep and loud, the crash of the waves on shore. Shi’ma had thought, the first time she met him in the Osairan Navy, that he might have simply walked out of the deep to live another the world. There was no trace of magic or power in him, though.
The last rays of daylight were dying in the water far to the west and Shi’ma stared at the fiery reflection scattered among the waves for a moment. “Throw them to Larion,” Shi’ma said with the slow malice in her heart. “Let Them decide their fate.” Scum such as the ones on the Delight didn’t deserve mercy. The number they had destroyed through their gruesome little business was probably uncountable. King Vius would imprison them, and while that was far from a good life, the kingdom’s people shouldn’t be tasked with paying for them. Let the sea have these cretins.
Besides, she had more important work to do. As the first scream echoed across the water, the splash at the end of it giving her a grim satisfaction, Shi’ma marched her way down to the fore-deck in search of her crew. Bodies littered the soaked wood and blood washed across the deck in diluted rivers under her boots. Two of hers were among the many dead, and more sported rent clothes and bloody tears in their skin. The three medics, Healer Hita and his two assistants, were already at work on the worst.
None of her crew bowed, some were too caught up in their own tasks to even acknowledge her. Shi’ma was pleased to see she didn’t really need to direct the next steps of securing the Delight and stripping it of its treasure. Happy there was no reason to delay, Shi’ma made a beeline for the opening that lead down into the cargo hold. Lanterns had been lit thanks to a little Trawok, their resident Fire Mage. Shi’ma gave the small teenager a pat on the back as she walked by and got a quick nod of thanks in turn.
These kinds of ships, the ones with illegal cargo, were usually the same. The Delight was no exception. Standard wares were stacked up to the rafters, boxes and crates full to the brim with crockery and books, sometimes produce for a short run. Some clever little weasel would rig up and bespell a barrier of fabric or thin wood to hide the sounds of those trapped behind it.
Amateurs. The ocean under the keel heaved and surged as she pulled on it, the blue of her magic a glimmer in the dim space. Salt water trickled along the barrier first in drops, then as a sheet until the faint stain of power on the cheap wood was washed clean.
Shi’ma sighed and smacked the wood standing between her and whatever was behind it. Not a sound came out, no gasp of surprised or stifled shriek of fright. Maybe there was no captive, or they had been put to sleep. She retraced her steps and unhooked one of the lanterns from the ceiling. Best to check.
As the light crept its way forward, the bars came into focus first. Shi’ma lifted the burning light higher, above her eyes. Silver hair tumbled in disarray to hide a dark face, delicate and serene amidst the dankness of the tiny holding area.
Those eyes though. Crystalline and pure, somewhere between silver and white.
They looked right through her.
I hope you enjoy the first installment of Winter’s Heart! If you’re feeling generous, my Ko-Fi link is in the sidebar. Thanks for reading!