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All in a Day's Work: 1. All in a Day's Work
The wind blew past the fields towards the village. Between the noise of the plough and the harness's jingle and creak, Beleg only noticed the alarm bell in the quiet after it stopped.
Fingers fumbling in haste, he unbuckled the traces and swung onto the horse. He crested the hill and saw the Corsair ship passing the encircling arms of the bay, its black sail rising. Men lay in the street on dark damp stains and old women wailed.
The Prince kept a garrison not two leagues south. Wrenching the horse around onto the road, he kicked for a gallop.
The Merchant's Factor
As soon as the broad-beamed cargo ship made port, the Prince commandeered her. When the merchant's factor arrived, he found marines tossing bales and jars into haphazard piles on the dock.
"Stop them! That's no way to offload!"
A hard-faced knight pushed him away from the gangplank. "They only make room amidships for themselves. We need to keep this tub balanced to get all the speed she can muster.
The factor wrung his hands. "She could be fully unloaded quite quickly."
"Nah. Rich and easy targets ride low. She's fine as she is. You'll be compensated if aught goes amiss."
The ship wallowed and drifted. In thirty-five years at sea, he'd never looked such a fool. Neither the old storm-tattered sail hoisted to hide the marines nor the incompetently wielded oars gave his lady any headway. He felt the rowers' growing frustration. Each time they began to pull in their usual smooth rhythm, a clout from a marine would stagger them back out of time, risking broken oars and broken heads.
Was the dark sail turning towards them? Surely, even to Corsairs, they must look too much like a trap.
The Prince used the Captain's spyglass. "They've taken the bait."
A Corsair sail should be black, but the young marine peering out through the white, ragged sail saw this one looked a streaked and faded grey. Clutching his knife and keeping a hand on his sword, he watched the flurry of activity on the Corsair as the mast was dropped and stowed. Gleaming oars hit the water. A drum pounded out a quick, steady pulse. The enemy ship picked up speed, heading straight for the wallowing merchantman.
He tried to scrabble backwards. "They're going to ram us!"
The Prince smiled a wolfish grin. "Steady, boy. They won't sink a prize."
He kept a firm grip on the bow, but the arrow lightly nocked, as he gauged the wind and the roll of the ships. The heave of the swell blocked his view of the southern scum lining the rail, before bringing them into range again.
"They'll expect some resistance."
"Aye. I can give them that." He raised his bow and drew.
The Prince's cautionary hand stayed him.
"They are slavers. I'll not rain death down on our own chained to the oars. See your arrows fall short or hit their target."
The archer spat over the side. "I'll waste none."
The grapples bit into the merchantman with an uneven series of thuds. Rowers dropped their oars and sawed at the ropes with knives. The knight, crouched in the shadow of the sail, heard the shrieks of women and the wails of frightened children from the hold of the Corsair.
Discipline held. The marines stayed motionless and silent waiting for their moment. As the ships noisily grated together, the Corsairs surged over the rail, bellowing their rage and hatred.
In seconds, practiced hands unstepped the mast and dropped it, and the enveloping sail, over the pirates.
"Out cutlasses, and board!"
The fight was short and bloody. Imrahil, leaping the gap between the ships, felt only satisfaction as his sword stabbed, slashed and dripped red. He pulled his blade from the Corsair captain and surveyed his prize.
The rowers were already being released from their chains, and the women and children from their bonds. Soon they would be home.
As his men tipped the slavers' corpses overboard, the scent of southron spices wafted from the hold. Imrahil ran his hands over the polished rail of the captured Corsair ship and grinned. Repainted, she would be a worthy addition to his fleet.
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