Created by stidmama on 17 Apr 2008 | Tagged as:
Here is an original “stid story” as Dr. Nut (evanonut of babble fame) calls it. Written for the babblecast, here is the text so you can read at your leisure…
The Valiant Valkyrie
A Stidmama original, prepared for Babblecast
The call from the crow’s nest was clear in the cool, calm morning air. The captain strode to the other side of the poop deck and trained the spyglass on the horizon. Sure enough, something … She squinted at the disturbance and called down to the first mate: “YAR! Git up to the nest and take a look fer yerself!” The mate scrambled aloft and affirmed there was indeed something big just over the horizon.
She folded the glass and took her place near the helm, barking orders, enjoying the way the sailors’ muscles rippled as they hauled lines, climbed ropes and set about adjusting the sails to match the new heading. The sails riffled as the breeze caught them. The hull creaked as they came about and it shifted in the water.
She sighed. Breeze. Not wind. They needed wind, to make any progress. The current was against them. Whatever that was on the horizon – another ship? an island? would remain unknown for the moment.
Still, at least they were pointed in the right direction if it was a ship. She told the helm to use what wind there was to move across the current that threatened to take them wildly off course – not tacking exactly, but … she sighed and went below.
For sure, there was a storm coming from some direction. That splitting headache was back, and she needed to lie down. The first mate would see that progress was made.
Her cabin was small – she kept the old captain’s cabin as a sort of banquet and gathering room for the crew, using the chart room for herself. It was warmer on cold nights, and kept the crew from grumbling about the privileges of rank. She could hear some of the sailors not currently on duty playing at Dudo, cursing or laughing, enjoying themselves. She had never quite caught on at dice games, but willingly lost a few on occasion to keep the crew happy.
She might be the captain, but she was also a people person. She had learned over the years that a crew that felt it was valued performed better, leading to more profit for everyone. And a crew that had a captain willing to be bested at games were more likely to approach with ideas.
She took a pull from her flask and lay back in the hammock, letting it swing. Creak-pop! the wood in the beams flexed slightly, rolling in the swell of the ocean. A bang from below – something in the hold had shifted. That cabin boy would have to be reprimanded. Again.
It was his responsibility to be sure the lines that held the cargo were secure. She yawned and fell asleep, the sounds of the shanties sung as the sailors fell to maintenance tasks in her ears.
The cabin boy was asleep behind the anchor rope. He was only ten years old, but already strong and lithe. He could scramble aloft faster than any of the men, and though his hands were not as strong as the older sailors, he was clever and could unravel knots faster than anyone else. Except the captain. She had started out like him, born aboard ship on a long voyage, she had rarely walked on land, and then only for as long as necessary.
A shift in the wind woke him, and he scrambled out onto the bowsprit to check the lines there. Satisfied the jib was secure, he ran around, checking the shrouds, ducking in and among the sailors. The first mate caught him as he ran past and pointed to the hatch.
Somethin’ down there shifted, boy, make it fast. And watch yer step! And he cuffed the lad on the side of the head as he zipped off again. The first mate was a gruff, tough old sailor, with a thin frame but broad shoulders, his hands the size of cantaloupes. His tough skin bore the marks of both accident and battle, and when he took his shirt off, which was rare, one couldn’t help noticing the many scars from the lashes he took after being press-ganged as a youth.
The cabin boy was quite in awe of the first mate, imitating his swaggering gait whenever the mate was out of sight. It gave the rest of the crew a chuckle and that kept the daily (though small) escapades of the boy from getting him into too much trouble.
The child jumped nimbly into the hold and found the barrel that had fallen. It was a simple thing to roll it back to position – fortunately it was almost empty of the grain it had held – and pulled the netting over it. He stopped by each stack or pile for a moment, checking all knots and loops. Everything else was secure.
He steadied himself as the ship took a bigger roll than normal, and watched the hammocks swaying, a couple thumping against the side of the hull as their occupants tried to snooze.
He hoped cook would find him next time she needed something from the stores. She wasn’t very good at putting things back. Satisfied that the rest of the hold was in good order, he snagged a small piece of sweet cane from the sack he had been given the last time they made port, and climbed back topside.
By the time he got on deck, the sky had turned an ominous color. The wind was picking up, and the little boat was shifting violently in the ever-changing gusts. He knew he needed to stay out of the way, so he climbed into the longboat and held on, sucking on the piece of cane, savoring the sweet juice that exploded as he chewed slowly at the end.
He watched as the captain came storming out of her chartroom, looking wild and fierce, buckling on her cutlass, and moving swiftly to take the helm. The first mate came out behind, looking a bit worse for the wear, and the crew knew he had been scolded for not waking her sooner. The boy was proud of her – she was the best helmsman in the seas, he had been told – and the crew knew it. They quickly fell to, hauling lines, reefing sails, adjusting and shifting, racing back and forth.
The ship steadied and moved faster toward the horizon. The captain wouldn’t try to outrun a storm that had come up so fast, she would continue on her path and use the wind to get them to their destination faster.
Still, it was tricky business, and as the morning turned past noon, no one had any time to rest or eat. Every time the ship jibed, she shuddered and the crew held their breath as they waited for the sails to snap or hold. The boy started going around the deck with a flask, instructed by the cook to let each sailor have ONE pull – no more, to help them stave off the fear and hunger of so long a fight. A couple times, he stopped and held on to a shroud or braced against a mast when a gust or a wave blew over the deck. It was tough business, and he was tempted to try the flask himself, but then he remembered the cook’s promise of a hot cider when it was over.
The sky lightened above them, the winds died down. The ship lolled in the lull, bobbing slightly in the ocean’s swell, but not making perceptible movement.
As the sailors began to relax, the captain barked orders again, her voice harsh from yelling over the storm for so long, “Look alive! There’s lines to tend and sails to mend. Ye know as well as I that the storm will come again, and sooner than we think. Secure your lines, then rest in shifts – port side for half an hour, then starboard.”
She caught the eye of the cabin boy, standing drenched by the foremast, and motioned him to come to the helm with his flask. The boy raced aft and held the flask out.
One pull, and the captain relaxed a bit, and her face softened in pride, “Well done, son. This is a hard storm. Now go see what cook has for you. — And tell her that we could all do with a bit of meat if she can, there’s perhaps an hour before the storm hits again.”
The boy hesitated – then hugged the captain before rushing down to the galley to help the cook, who had already managed to get a couple chickens plucked while the storm raged, and was getting them into the kettle for stew. The boy fell to, chopping what vegetables were left (mostly potatoes) and soon the smell of the stew wafted up across the deck.
Soon enough, the wind began to pick up as other edge of the storm caught up with them. The sailors stood by their posts, nervously checking lines and peering into the oncoming rain. The boy checked hatches one more time, then retreated to the chartroom to wait through the second half of the storm. He wasn’t allowed on deck in the dark. He finally fell into a deep sleep, curled up in the captain’s hammock, his favorite blanket clutched to his chest.
Hours later, his exhausted mother came in, shaking water off her skirts and cursing the lack of time to change into pants before the storm had hit. The ship was silent now, rocking gently as the remains of the storm subsided. She looked at the boy in the flickering light of the lantern, as she studied the charts. Once, she stepped outside, hoping for a glimpse of stars, but what she saw was too dim, too cloud-filtered to help her.
She was a good navigator, but without information about how fast they had been going, she could only guess at the distance they had traveled. Again and again, she calculated, based on her best memory of their moves during the storm.
Finally, she too sank into a deep sleep, in her chair by the table.
When the first mate knocked on the cabin door in the morning, the boy answered. The man looked down in surprise at the lad, then smiled. He ruffled his hair and spoke gently, “If the captain can come aloft, I have something to show her that will please her.” Then he added, “And when you are ready, Cook has a treat for you, lad.”
The boy nodded, and grinned. Closing the door, he turned toward his mother, to see her eyes open, watching him. She lifted her head and stretched. At his look, she nodded, and sighed, “Yes, I heard. Go on and get your breakfast. I’ll be up in a moment.”
Sure enough, the captain was pleased. A ship. A merchant brig, specifically. The captain trained her spyglass on the vessel and grinned. A cold, calculating, very un-ladylike grin. The mate snickered and motioned to the crew. They struck their colors and raised a small pennant of distress. A quick release of a line and a sail fluttered askew…
The cabin boy lounged below decks, happily nibbling a meat pie the cook had made out of leftovers. It warmed his stomach and made him drowsy. He curled up in a corner and watched the cook carefully scoop a few cinders into a metal box for keeping, then bank the remaining coals with ashes and close the dampers on the stove to cool things down. The crew had a hot meal every other day when times were good, though sometimes weeks would go by when the only thing hot were tempers.
The cook hummed to herself as she worked, glancing over at the boy once or twice. It wasn’t a perfect life for a child, she thought, but who was she to judge? She’d never had children of her own, though certainly not for lack of trying! She clucked to herself at missed opportunities, knowing that her years of attractive looks were far behind. Her tongue sought out her few remaining teeth, and she winced at the pain as she found another one that was loose. Ah well, this was her last voyage, and she would return to her brother’s farm to help care for their ailing mother.
The Valkyrie fluttered on the crest of a wave, a puff of smoke rising above the pennant. The crew watched from the gunnel and the rigging, as she inched closer to the merchantman.
Finally, “AHOY!” faintly, barely above a whisper, carried away by the wind as quickly as it arrived. A glance through the spyglass showed a well-fed crew, with what looked like passengers crowded to the rails to see the action. The captain waved at the signalman, who grabbed his flag and raced to the crow’s nest.
This was going to be easy…
In no time, it seemed, the merchantman had pulled alongside, doing most of the work, tiring out her crew while the pirates waited, making small gestures to help, lowering sails and tossing lines, while the captain leaned toward the bigger ship and made her well-rehearsed plea for “a bit o’ water and hardtack to tide us over.”
No captain refused a request like that, and while the larger boat’s crew (which was still fewer than the men on the smaller brig) snapped to, the pretty young captain was invited aboard to refresh herself. And to help herself to the best the captain had to offer.
Which was always a bit more than he intended.
No sooner had she been handed aboard, than a ruckus arose from her ship. As men from the merchant ship hurried over to help calm the new crisis, a few men from her own boarded the merchantman. It wasn’t hard. Everyone looked toward the commotion.
The well-trained pirates quickly subdued and knocked out the merchant sailors, donning their uniforms and returning to the merchantman. The pirates already on board the merchantmen did the same, without the passengers noticing anything. In no time, the larger ship was completely unprotected. Meanwhile, the pretty captain entertained the guests in the captain’s quarters with a rousing tale of their struggle through the recent storm, and the loss of their water barrels overboard. She fluttered her eyelashes at the men and reached pitifully toward the women.
Then, the trouble began. She hadn’t counted on a second shift being asleep below decks. As her pirates entered the hold to remove anything valuable, the merchant sailors awoke and raised a hew and cry. The captain and his first mate started up, only to find themselves confronted by a suddenly very competent and menacing pirate.
“Sorry, mates, ye’ll be leaving with a lighter load than ye intended. We’re grateful to ye for yer help, so I’ll make it easy on ye.” She gestured toward a rather young, docile woman. “This young beauty can tie ye up, with her mother’s help, and then we’ll all just sit and wait for the all-clear, if ye don’t mind.”
The young woman looked at her mother, who looked at the pirate captain with alarm. But they hurried to do her bidding, tying up the men with strong ropes, then sat quietly in chairs at a distance. The pirate captain helped herself to a bit more tea, and smiled indulgently.
“Ye’ve nothing to fear, I’ve never actually harmed those who came my way – yet.” And they listened to the scuffle on the deck above. “Apparently yer captain was a bit better prepared than I gave him credit fer. He’s a good captain, with a good crew — “ she broke off for a moment, as a cleat came flying through the door, just missing the knee of a rather effeminate man, “and ye’ll be in port in a couple days’ time with no real damage but to yer ego and yer pocketbooks.”
A pirate poked his head in the door and grinned at the captain, sitting at ease with a china cup in her hand. He tipped his hat to the matronly woman and winked at the girls before deflecting a saber deftly and knocking it out of his opponent’s hand. A few minutes more, and it was over.
One or two merchant sailors lay on the deck, seriously wounded, the rest were tied up. A pirate gasped for air, the stub of a short sword in his chest, and a couple others nursed gaping cuts or bruises, but nothing more. It had been a quick, easy fight.
The pirates transferred a few chests and barrels to their smaller, faster (and more maneuverable) brig, while the merchantman’s captain watched angrily. Then, they calmly cut the lines to the mainsail and top sails, disabling the ship for a few hours until the ropes could be spliced, and the pirate captain returned to her ship, cradling a treasure for the cabin boy.
As the Valkyrie sped away in the rising wind, the cabin boy awoke in his mother’s hammock. He tried to remember how he got there, but couldn’t. Still, he remembered they had been approaching another ship… Groggily, he tried to sit up, but the swinging hammock made him dizzy.
He could see something on the table, something with bright eyes and a long tail… he focused and a monkey came into view. He smiled at it, and it leapt into the hammock, sending it rocking even more. A giggle escaped, just as his mother came through the door, looking tired, but wearing a pretty jacket he hadn’t seen before. He could hear the crew singing, a lusty song about drink and dames, one they only brought out for the most festive occasions.
She must have done some fancy trading, he decided, as he drifted back to sleep, the monkey curled up on his chest.
The Valkyrie rode the waves, making progress toward her home port, well ahead of any news or storms. She was a fine, trim craft, with an expert crew. And her captain knew how to get what they needed.