11th of February 1714
The three claws of the harpy danced in the wind atop the mast of the well-known ship; the red claw of The Cursed Harpy had become infamous amongst the royal navy. Mere sight of the blood stained scratches swaying in the breeze could cause even the most hardened sea dog to cower down in his hammock. It was the flag of one of the most wanted pirates on the seas and at long last the royal navy had finally caught up with her.
The smell of gunpowder filled the air, the loud kickbacks from the cannons and crashing sounds of the projectiles tearing through the ship’s hauls drowned out the screams coming from the Captain’s quarters. On deck men ran back and forth moving artillery down below and desperately adjusting the sails, all whilst firing pistols across the way at the HS Marie the fastest ship in the entirety of the British Royal Navy. Even with the impressive speed and maneuverability of the Harpy she wasn’t able to escape from the clutches of the prized Naval ship; atop the deck the Harpy’s first mate William Bakker stood at the helm frantically turning the ship and changing course trying to make a break from the Marie. All of Mister Bakker’s efforts however were in vain, the Harpy and its crew were trapped. If they were to have any chance of making port without their necks meeting the noose it looked as though they were going to have to fight.
Across the way the HS Marie’s captain Jonathon B. Ayres could be clearly heard shouting commands to his soldiers, they were an elite crew. Fit, healthy and well-seasoned in battle, the men moved about the deck in formation and fired cannon blasts and volleys from their rifles in unison. This stood in stark comparison to the Harpy’s crew who were frantic, unorganised and making far too many simple mistakes for men who had sailed as long as they had. Try as he might William couldn’t rally the crew like their Captain; Veronica S. Fielding. He shouted down commands but they seemed to fall upon deaf ears. Frustrated Will turned to young Dave Monger the rat faced boy for whom this was his maiden voyage.
“Run down below lad,” Will yelled, “Bring me an update on the Captain and fetch us a bottle from her quarters. If I’m gonna die it’s going to be with a belly full of brandy.”
Dashing down the stairs Dave made it to the deck just as the Marie dealt her hardest blow of the battle. Turning wide Will had exposed the Harpy’s starboard side and in doing so meet the full force of the Marie’s guns. Sixteen cannon blasts fired in perfect unison shredded the ship. A direct hit struck the foremast forcing it down into the swell along with one of the Harpy’s crewmen, who while adjusting a sail during the impact was flung across the length of the deck before being slammed into the port side railing and toppling head over heel into the water. The haul took the brunt of the assault, being struck multiple times in key areas. The Harpy was all but out of commission. Running was definitely not an option anymore; the pirates were going to have to fight using every trick and tactic they had if they were to have any chance of escaping capture. Will had seen his fair share of battles and hopeless situations during his near twenty years at sea but nothing as grim as this came to mind. The usually chipper and optimistic sailor was beginning to lose hope that he and the men could evade the gallows this time.
“Lord help us,” Will pleaded, “Find us a way clear of their ship.”
Looking down on deck Will surveyed the damage, as he was eyeing up the ship he saw a rather wet and bloody Peter Adams appear on deck. Arms wrapped desperately around his head and ankle swollen and bruised; Peter desperately ran across the deck amidst a hail of rifle fire. Scurrying up the steps to the bridge Peter tried frantically to yell over the loud cannon fire,
“It’s hell down below! We’re taking in… Too much water, we can’t keep it all out and man the cannons… The men… Are bloody and beaten, I don’t know how much longer we can hold out.”
As Peter spoke Dave appeared behind him.
“They’ll have to last a little longer!” Will said dryly, “Report lad!”
“Uh the Captain seems to be in a great lot of pain,” Dave said stepping in from behind Peter, “She wasn’t in the best state to talk; I think we might be without her for the rest of the battle sir.”
Will was silent for a moment. He looked out across the deck at his men scurrying hysterically back and forth, slipping on the large puddles of water as they tried to return fire at the HS Marie with their pistols. It was all in vain though, the men up above were just moving target practice for the well-formed firing lines of the elite Marie soldiers.
“Sir…” Dave asked with quite a lot of desperation in his voice, “What now?”
“Brandy.” Will replied.
The two men looked puzzled, Dave reached out with the bottle and Will snatched it straight from his hands. Taking a large swig he laid down the plan in his large booming voice.
“Dave!” He bellowed, “Grab a bucket or whatever you can find to scoop water and get down below deck. Shovel out the water and patch up the haul as best you can; so help me if the Harpy sinks I’ll have your head.”
Face full of terror Dave scurried away, slipping and falling down the wet stairs as he did.
“And Pete, you’re taking the wheel.”
“What?” A shocked Peter replied.
“I’ve got to go see the Captain myself; she’s our best and most likely only hope of making it back to port alive. You’re just as good a man as any to steer her and with that foot I doubt you’d be much help on deck or down below anyways.”
“But I know little of the helm, what do I do?”
“Keep her a float and keep her moving, I’ll be back soon enough.”
Stumbling down the stairs Will pushed his way through the frenzied crowds of men and made his way into the Captain’s cabin. Bursting through the cabin door, brandy bottle still in hand; Will was taken aback. Inside was nearly as hectic as outside on the deck, The Cursed Harpy’s Captain Veronica was propped up in bed screaming. Her face was strained and as red as boiled lobster, her entire body was covered in sweat; the bedding was draped in blood. The swaying of the ship during battle had knocked most of the Captain’s belongings onto the floor; with each turn of the ship and each hit from a cannon blast more trinkets toppled from the shelves. Even the large tables and cupboards that filled the room shock with the vicious turning; the Captain herself had to grip the sides of the bed just to keep from falling; it was utter bedlam. As chaotic as the room and the entire ship for that matter was Will still felt a strange calm wash over him upon seeing Veronica; she had a strange way of doing that to people, even in this current state. It appeared obvious that the Captain would be unable to fight but Will suddenly felt there was hope once more. She was in a great deal of pain but could still deliver orders, even if they would have to be run from her cabin to the deck.
“I thought we had it bad out on deck,” Will chuckled, “Can’t say I’d be willing to trade places with you.”
“Hand me the brandy.” Veronica panted.
“Of course… Is the…”
Veronica let out a thunderous scream, cutting Will of mid sentence. Taking a large gulp of the brandy she began pounding the headboard with her fist.
“Curse the god who deemed it fit to burden us with childbirth!” She yelled.
“Childbirth is meant to be an honour Captain.”
“Perhaps I would see it as an honour if it wasn’t so bloody painful.”
“Is the child almost here…” Will muttered.
“I can’t see the damn thing,” Veronica replied, “I think the head has passed but I’m not sure. Get down there and give us a hand would you.”
Will blushed, “Ugh are you sure captain?”
“Yes I’m bloody sure,”
“Okay…” Will stuttered. Anxiously he walked over to the end of the bed; Will grabbed the Captain’s dress and took a deep breath. Veronica let out another loud scream, “Hurry up and take a look!”
“Hand me the brandy first…” Will muttered,
Veronica tossed the bottle over to Will spilling some over herself as she did. With a deep breath and a mouthful of liquor Will flung the dress back and took a look. What he saw shocked Will to say the least, he had never seen a child being born before and had always imagined the process to be much cleaner. It was not a sight he cherished but he knew that he must help the Captain. Ducking out from underneath the dress Will bellowed, “You’re right, the head is almost completely out!”
“Then get back down there and pull it out!” Veronica shouted.
Nodding Will went back under Veronica’s dress and tried his best to gently but forcefully pull the child out into the world. “Okay on three push,” Will shouted, “One… Two…”
Before Will could reach the three count a loud crashing sound filled the room. A cannonball from the HS Marie had smashed through a small window in the cabin and flew straight across Captain Veronica’s belly, by what appeared to be just a few inches the cannonball missed and flew clean through the wall on the other side of the cabin. It was with a great deal of luck that the cannon blast had narrowly missed the two; while they escaped the blast with their lives the Harpy’s Captain did not remain unscathed; Veronica caught a face full of broken glass and debris from the window. The entire left side of her face was lacerated and bleeding. Startled by the cannon Will leapt to his feet and drew his pistol.
“Forget it!” Veronica shouted, “It was only a cannon; get down there and pull!”
Coursing with adrenaline Veronica pushed with all her might and with Will’s assistance the baby was soon out; Will held the baby up and with a slight tear in his eye said, “It’s a boy… He’s beautiful…”
Veronica laughed, “Hand him to me.”
“Of course; any ideas for a name?”
“I was thinking perhaps Elias,”
“Tis a good name, strong.”
Reaching into his back pocket Will pulled out a bandana, “Here, clean the little lad up.”
“He does look a bit of a mess doesn’t he?” Veronica chuckled as she began wiping young Elias clean. The joyful moment was soon interrupted however; Dave came stumbling into the cabin, blood running down the right side of his face.
“Captain! Royal soldiers are attempting to board the Harpy; we can’t hold them off much longer.”
“Return to deck!” Veronica snapped, “I’ll be up soon to deal with them.”
Dave nodded and quickly raced back out onto the deck. Will went to stand up and leave to join the men in the fight but was quickly stopped by Veronica.
“Will,” She said, “You are my most trusted ally and perhaps the only man in this world who I believe I can truly trust. I have heard the commotion outside; heard the men yelling about the damage. If soldiers have already began to board then our hopes of escape are lost… I need you to take Elias to safety, watch over him and make sure he leads a rich life.”
Will was taken aback by the Captain’s words; he knew nothing of caring for a child. “Why don’t you take him? You are his mother.” Will questioned.
“I wish I could, I want nothing more than to watch him grow into a strong young man but I’m a wanted woman they’ll never stop hunting me. Besides without me on deck fighting the men have no chance of holding the soldiers of long enough to make an escape. You’re a great fighter William but neither you nor any other man on board this ship can hold a candle to me with a sword; and after all a captain must always go down with their ship.”
“I can’t… I can’t take your child and leave you behind”
“You must. It is Elias’ only hope.”
“These men serve the crown, there is no way they’ll willingly kill an innocent child. Perhaps they’ll take the child to home to be fostered and cared for by parents who know how to care for him.”
“You’re a wise man William, you know as well as I that his best hopes lie in the sewers as a homeless orphan if you don’t take him. I grew up that way and no son of mine will have to endure the horrors that I did, please William, do this for me.”
With tears in his eyes Will reluctantly agreed. Veronica smiled and with some strain made her way to her feet; lifting up the side of her mattress she pulled out a small envelope and spy glass with the Harpy’s markings on the sides. “My child will have the Sun and Stars.” She said placing them both in Will’s hands.
William nodded, “He will Captain, he will.”
Veronica smiled, “Here, wrap him up in a blanket and take one of the dinghies from the back of the ship. I’ll see to it that you escape unharmed. ”
Will stood there holding the young child as Veronica flung open her trunk and began to dress and arm herself for battle, “You’re a good woman Veronica; I’ll pray for God to grant you his forgiveness.”
“With the life he dealt me, God will have to pray for my forgiveness.”
Veronica stumbled to her feet still in a great deal of pain, she gripped Will’s shoulder tightly for support. Looking down into his arms she cherished the sight of her baby boy and gave both young Elias and William a kiss on the cheek before grabbing her pistols and swords from of the ground and marching out of the room. She walked down the small hallway to the deck with a face that said she was ready to kill, kicking the door out to the deck clean off its hinges Veronica strutted out to the battle. Two pistols in hand and another half a dozen strapped across her chest; a long sword on her hip and a dagger strapped to each ankle.
“Curse you men who can’t go a day without the help of a woman!” She shouted as she unloaded fire on the royal troops swinging across ships; two shots and two direct hits, the men fell from the ropes and plunged down into the freezing water below. Tossing the pistols behind her Veronica drew her long sword, “All men above deck!” she shouted. The men down below scurried up as fast as they could and formed behind their Captain just as the royal troops landed on the Harpy’s deck; Veronica meet the first man with a back handed swing of her sword that sliced the man’s check clean open; he dropped to the ground like a sack of potatoes. Two men behind him struck with their swords; both blocked by Veronica’s monstrous blade. With all her might she repelled the two men back into the ships railing; drawing one of her many pistols she fired directing into the forehead of one of the men and knocked him clean overboard. With terror in his eyes the other soldier swung his sword rapidly at Veronica, she blocked his strikes numerous at they were before finally kicking the man in the shin. With his weight being pushed out from under him on the wet deck he slipped face first landing right at the Captain’s feet; looking up scared he was unfortunate enough to see the blade coming down upon him; straight through his cheek. Raising the blood stained sword above her head; the pirates cheered, “Live and die by the sea!” She shouted. As more soldiers landed on the decks the pirates chanted along with their Captain, “Live and die by the sea! Live and die by the sea!” Waving their pistols and swords in the air they charged behind their captain into the royal ranks.
William saw the defiant last charge as he rounded out onto the deck with young Elias held close to his chest. Amidst the chaos Will stopped for a moment and took in the remarkable battle that was taking place. Her long black locks flowed gracefully through the air and her sword moved with such devastating precision; a smile stretched wide across Will’s face as he watched his Captain cut down man after man. He wished to be by her side, to help her but he had been charged with a much more important duty; Will knew that he must leave and he must leave fast. Ever cautious of the baby in his arms Will rounded the starboard side of the ship in a near sprint; he dashed down and around the back to one of the dinghies. Frantically he started to lower the boat but soon realised that it was going to be unusable; struck by some sort of projectile the dinghy was no longer seaworthy. Fortunately the second and final dinghy was still in perfect shape; desperate not to waste time Will drew his sword and slashed the ropes supporting the dinghy. Splashing into the water Will followed the dinghy; jumping down from the railing with Elias close to his chest. Less graceful then would have been preferred but he still managed to make it into the boat with himself and Elias safe and sound. Nursing Elias on his knee Will grabbed the oars and started rowing as fast as he could.
“Stroke, stroke, stroke,” Will counted , trying to ignore the child’s anguished cries for his mother, “Stroke, stroke, stroke,” each stroke put the pair closer and closer to safety and with each stroke Will began to feel both relief for Elia’s safety and fear for Veronica’s. The Cursed Harpy began to disappear from vision as they gained more and more distance but before the ship could completely vanish from sight William saw the infamous claws of the harpy fall from its position atop the mast; it was then that Will knew he had no chance of seeing Captain Veronica or any of the men again. He and Elias were alone.
By Taylor Thompson.
More chapters to be added regularly.