34: Viper-bitten Dark Elves!

The Story So Far

The Mytilan Militantes’ schedule had earlier taken the team to the second host-city of the Sommer Sea Football League, Halos, the capital city of the Dark Elf nation on Oscurisla. Dark Elves enslave foreign races and sacrifice slaves in their horrific rituals, but they begrudgingly allow other races who need to come to their city to have their own walled neighbourhood, the Foreigners’ Quarter, where foreign laws prevail. The Militantes’ time in the disturbing city was marked by the murder of Jacyntha’s close friend Ocllo during the game against the local team, the Duskdaggers, which led to a gut-wrenching reckoning as a footy team and then a come from behind victory over the Mongrels that restored confidence in the hearts of the players.

Mytilan’s Queen Beatriz, Jacyntha’s mother, meets with her daughter on board her flagship sitting at anchor in Guayamartí’s harbour. Beatriz declares that Jacyntha’s days as a footy player are over and it’s time to come home and do her duty. Jacyntha protests but Beatriz brooks no dissent. The ship weighs anchor and sets sail. Jacyntha learns she’s caught in two traps: not only can she not escape her mother’s cabin, she is to marry the deposed king of Chivalria and nephew to Duc Tancred de Baston, Carles the Voracious.

The events in this episode come to pass concurrently with those in Episode 32 …

“Viper-bitten Dark Elves!”

As unappealing as the thought was, Jacyntha realized it was her only chance: striking out for Oscurisla, the island of the Dark Elves and its city of Halos, where the Militantes had recently passed a month. She could finally see the shadowed shore off to starboard and now she needed courage. Saying it out loud, even if only to herself alone in her darkened cabin, helped.

Mytilan’s navy wasn’t really a blue-water fleet, able to sail far from shore for long periods of time without resupply. Her mother’s flagship could, but most of the ships were more akin to Nordmen longships than big, High Elf ships of the line. When at all possible, the fleet kept close to shore, meaning the trip from Guayamartí to Mytilan saw them skirting the island.

Where Ocllo had been murdered. By Viper-bitten Dark Elves.

Jacyntha saw no other option. She hadn’t jumped overboard whilst the fleet left Guayamartí because her mother would have ordered a dinghy put in the water to fish her out. Or, had that failed and Jacyntha somehow made shore, Queen Beatriz would have turned her ships around had taken them back to port. Jacyntha hadn’t liked the odds of hiding out in the city and then somehow making it through the bowels of the Eztadio de Sanger into the Militantes’ changing room before the wild card game. She’d have gotten nabbed for certain.

But waiting until the fleet passed Oscurisla had given her an option. She didn’t like the option but it was the only one available to her. What made it tenable was that the flagship brought up the rear of the convoy whilst the rest of the fleet sailed on ahead. Even so, she had wanted better odds than a mere tenable plan might permit. After all, taking a chance didn’t mean she had to be unprepared.

So, by playing the part of the dutiful princess the previous day, she had managed to earn some privileges: a spear and a pair of dirks for sparring with the ship’s first officer (that she had kept), a cask of sherry for her enjoyment (that she had covertly emptied out her cabin’s porthole), a basket of fruit, cheese and bread (that she had wrapped in a waxed cloth and stowed in a sea chest alongside the dirks). Then she had spent much of the night unmaking the hammock in her cabin and re-jigging its cords into a rope. She was as ready as she could be by the time dawn turned the horizon golden.

She had been on deck of The Menace, Horatio Thordwall’s ship, when the Militantes first travelled to Halos. That now helped her recognize Cape Ligatos as it hove into view. She sprang into action. She took her gear out on deck, plonking the sea chest down at the stern behind the ship’s first officer; as a princess, the man – a rare specimen in Mytilan’s military – didn’t question why she decided to sit on the aftcastle with her cask of sherry and her sparring spear. Shortly thereafter, she used the commotion of the change in watches to tie her makeshift rope to a post on the aft rail. When the first officer moved forward to bid the captain a good morning, she dropped the empty cask and spear overboard and swung over the rail. She scrambled down the rope one-handed, the small chest tucked under an arm, using her legs to control her descent. Then she slipped into the sea and stifled the sudden urge to cry out.

Protecting Gods! This water’s cold!

She kicked towards the bobbing cask and spear, reaching them before the current pulled them out of her reach. Then she prayed to the Viper that no one would notice debris floating in the ship’s wake or that the princess had suddenly disappeared from the aftcastle.

No hue and cry went up, the ship didn’t come to a stop, no one put a dinghy into the sea to come after her. The frigid water finally forced her to risk making a larger shape of herself. She placed the sea chest atop the buoyant cask and pulled her torso up alongside it. The cask submerged but floated most of her torso. She hoped her woollen tunic and coat would soon make her feel warmer.

She held the sea chest and kicked, careful not to break the surface of the water and send splashes into the air that might more-easily draw unwanted eyes. She thrust herself towards Cape Ligatos and hoped she wouldn’t die of hypothermia before she made shore.

She almost made it.

“They’re slavers! Swim!”

Jacyntha was the length of a footy pitch from shore and she kicked the water as hard as she could. But the Dark Elf ship was only a dozen paces away and its crew were already shipping oars to slow the galley down so as to capture her. Someone on board had yelled the warning but she hadn’t needed it; she well knew what Dark Elves did to foreigners.

Crack! 

Whoever had tried helping her had received the lash of a whip as a result.

I’ll never reach shore!

She let go of the cask she had used as a buoy, and the sea chest with her food and dirks. She grabbed her spear and rolled onto her back, still kicking at the water, driving herself towards the rocky strand. She had no intention of making it easy to seize her.

The prow glided closer and closer, cutting through the chop and circling to cut her off from the shore. A pair of Dark Elf sailors stood at the prow holding aloft boat hooks that looked more like halberds than anything useful for working on a galley. When the ship drew near, they thrust the boat hooks at her. She knocked one away with her spear but the other hit her shoulder and snagged the wool of her coat. She felt herself getting tugged towards the hull and she tried wriggling out of the piece of clothing. It did no good. The sailor pulled her up against the ship. Two more sailors appeared at the rail and reached down, grabbing her arms. She kicked and writhed but they were the efforts of a fish on the hook; she soon lay in a sodden heap on deck between rows of emaciated, sullen rowers, perhaps forty or so, all chained to their places. At the very centre of the galley, another dozen slaves were chained to the mast. There looked to be eight Dark Elves in the crew. One of the book hook-wielders held her down, the other pulled her out of her woollen coat, holding it aloft and grinning.

Crack!

Near the stern stood a a whip-wielder. He barked some sort of order and the sailor with her coat gave a shudder, as though slapped. He set her coat aside, took up his hook, and stood at attention. A male Dark Elf sauntered past the whip-wielder and along between the ranks of rowers, a smirk upon his angular face. Evidently the captain, he wore a black hard leather mask over his eyes and cheeks, with silver crescent moons bracketing the eyes. The mask flared out onto spiky scales at the temples, in mocking tribute to a black dragon. When he drew close he said something she didn’t understand but that made the four sailors step away from her. She noted that the two with the boat hooks didn’t set the tools down.

“What have we hee-ah?” The captain’s voice was as melodious as it was scornful. “Stray-inch-looking fiush.”

Strange-looking fish?

She struggled to rise but a boat hook thumped into her back and knocked her face down to the deck. The masked Dark Elf laughed, a deep chuckle that sat in his throat. “The fiush fights! Maybe crack on head finish it off?” He laughed again but held up his hand to prevent a sailor from doing just that. He knelt in front of her, his mask looming in close and a hand with long fingernails taking her chin and pulling her face up. The eyes behind the mask were merciless. “Oh … you aar reach woman flay-shh.”

Rich woman-flesh?

“I’m more than mere woman-flesh!” she snarled. “I am the captain of the Mytilan Militantes from the Sommer Sea Football League.” Despite the horror of the situation, she surprised herself; she had been going to say she was the daughter of Mytilan’s Queen Beatriz. Her words gave her an idea. “I was kidnapped but escaped my captors. Please take me to the league Officer for Conduct in Halos, the Dwarf Dwarrig.”

The Dark Elf laughed again, though this time it was less full of mirth than full of scorn. “Oh, I do not theenk so. I throw not gold away.”

“Mytilan’s navy came here just three weeks ago to remind Halos not to break the Pact. You would risk its anger again?”

He shook his head and grinned. “No! I would not. But feeer do I not have. You lie to safe yourself. And I am theenking that even if you tell truth, Mytilan will never know.”

“I can pay you!”

He grabbed her throat, silencing her. “You learn. Obey. Shut up now or I weel order this crew-elf to hit your head with hees pole. Thees is the live of slave, no? Obey or die.” He flung her to the deck.

A day! One Temple-accursed day!

That was how long it took for her to go from captain of her footy team to Dark Elf slave.

Hands grabbed her arms and hauled her up. She then saw back towards the stern where two sailors pulled her sea chest and the empty cask from the water. The cask they set aside but one sailor came forward with the chest in his hands and handed it to the captain.

My dirks are in there!

As her captor flicked open the clasp, Jacyntha leapt into a backward somersault. As she spun, pivoting on her arms held by a pair of sailors, she kicked the sea chest and sent it spinning over the captain’s head. Upon landing, she used Umberto’s swim move to slither away from the grasping hands.

The contents of the sea chest scattered amongst the slaves. There were more than a pair of dirks inside; there was also fruit, cheese, and bread. The emaciated captives, those near enough for their chains to permit it, scrambled for the food in a riot of violence and noise. The whip-wielder at the stern charged forward to restore order, lashing. 

Crack! Crack! 

But he came too close to a burly slave, a Dwarf, who tripped him up. In the sudden confusion, more slaves took the opportunity to grasp, punch, and kick the person who had done them so much evil. The sailor who had brought forward the sea chest got pulled to the deck by grasping hands, the two with boat hooks swung their poles, knocking three, four, then five slaves to the deck.

The captain pulled out a dagger and went to prevent his whip-wielder from getting torn apart. But a slave had picked up one of Jacyntha’s dirks and she thrust it at him. All Elves are good at dodging attacks, including the enslaving, victim-sacrificing kind of Elves, and he spun away … right into Jacyntha’s path. She used Umberto’s grab move to clutch the Dark Elf’s arm and drive him onto the dirk tip. He gasped and bent double over the blade protruding from his gut.

Someone slammed into Jacyntha from behind, driving her to the deck. By the time she scrambled free of the weight, she saw a sailor being pulled into an angry mass of slaves, one of whom looped her manacles over the sailor’s head and used its links between her wrists to strangle him.

Jacyntha scrambled to the second dirk, dodged out of the way of a scything boat hook, and drove her weapon into a female elf’s chest. The boat hook clattered to the deck but didn’t stay there long before another slave snatched it up. With their captain and three crew killed, the remaining Dark Elves leapt overboard, preferring the easy swim to shore to losing their lives.

“Get us to the dock in the Foreigners’ Quarter and you’re all free again!” Jacyntha yelled. “Go on! Pick up those oars before those sailors bring help. We have this one chance for freedom! Don’t throw it away!” And they did. Jacyntha grabbed the tiller and turned the prow towards the one place on Oscurisla where they wouldn’t be enslaved.

A day to go from captain to slave. A minute to go from slave to captain.

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